"You basically have a list of people that are planning to go out at the same time as you are," says TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe in regard to scheduling a tour. "I guess with [Broken Social Scene] we were just sort of like, 'Oh yeah, that seems like it would work really well.' That's music we're all psyched about."
If that sounds like an understatement ... well, it probably is. For most of the past decade, Brooklyn-based TV on the Radio and Canada's Broken Social Scene have dominated taste-making blogs and publications like Pitchfork and Spin. Hell, BSS and TVOTR helped define the tastes of the blogs and publications themselves. Pre-Arcade Fire Canadian super-group premiers Broken Social Scene released consistently exceptional records like Broken Social Scene and You Forgot It in People and helped launch the careers of Leslie Feist and Metric's Emily Haines. TV on the Radio's Dear Science was named the top album of 2008 by Pitchfork's readers' poll, Spin, MTV, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice ... the list goes on and on. Plus, TVOTR's multi-instrumentalist David Sitek has produced records for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Scarlett Johansson and Liars, and Adebimpe acted in Jonathan Demme's critically acclaimed Rachel Getting Married.
Point is, you couldn't pry the critics off these guys with all the top-tier festival passes in the world. And not without good reason. Both outfits meld conventional rock 'n' roll structures with electronic instrumentation in a way that helped shape the face of modern indie rock. Broken Social Scene does it with a vast, revolving-door ensemble of multi-instrumentalists and powerhouse coed vocalists, with core members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning constructing fractured pop anthems, epic soundscapes and overcaffeinated, symphonic blow-outs. TV on the Radio does it with pulsating loops, dense walls of post-rock instrumentation and the lithe, half-improvised crooning of Adebimpe. Both bands are frequently recognized for their lush but accessible production, which features booming horn sections and layer upon layer of spellbinding percussion, keys, vocals and guitars.
During the mid- to late Aughts, both outfits were at critical high-points, capable of doing whatever they liked with the caché of cool they'd accrued via hard work and genuinely original output. Rather than release another proper, official Broken Social Scene record, Canning and Drew opted to each put out a solo record under the heading "Broken Social Scene Presents." The albums — Kevin Drew's Spirit If ... and Brendan Canning's Something for All of Us ... — were released in 2007 and 2008 respectively, and featured many of the same players as the BSS catalog. The general sound of the two releases was not unlike much of Broken Social Scene's material, and was generally well-received.
And if it weren't for those two releases, says Drew, Broken Social Scene might not have seen another release at all. "It was something that I think kept us together when we weren't sure what exactly was gonna happen," he says. "I think every band hits a point where you don't quite know how much damage control needs to be done and if you're really going to continue writing songs together. I think 'Social Scene Presents' helped us stay within the realm of ... kinda giving CPR to a band that was sorta falling apart."
But they didn't fall apart, and from there, Broken Social Scene released last year's Forgiveness Rock Record, which was recorded in Chicago with John McEntire — a member of the bands Tortoise and The Sea and Cake, and something of a pillar within the loose amalgam of a genre commonly referred to as "post rock." While not as universally lauded as much of the BSS catalog, Forgiveness possesses a developed structure — mapped out, careful and smart, it's beautiful when it needs to be, with just a touch of reckless abandon when necessary.
After releasing what was by and large considered the most critically successful album of 2008, TV on the Radio, too, ventured into new ground. Kyp Malone and David Sitek released solo efforts — Malone as Rain Machine, Sitek as Maximum Balloon — while Adebimpe collaborated with members of Tall Firs, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more. When they finally came together once more to record, TV on the Radio fleshed out one of their most consistent batches of songs yet. Reviews of this year's Nine Types of Light are mostly glowing, frequently using adjectives like "sunny," "romantic" and "positive."
"It's kind of a funny thing when you put a collection of things together, and you're kinda like, 'OK, that feels right. I don't know exactly why, but those all really go together, and it works, and there's maybe not so much a reason why to question why it's working,' " says Adebimpe. "I don't know if it's more or less sunny. ... If that's how it's being received, I'm totally psyched about it."
And that's where 2011 finds Broken Social Scene and TV on the Radio. The former is winding down a touring cycle that Drew says has felt endless, with the various members' paths growing more and more diasporic and the fate of the band itself uncertain. "[This tour is] gonna be the last time for a very, very long time when we're gonna be together playing these songs," he elaborates, further explaining that he and his band are "just gonna have some fun with it, and we're going to play what we want to play together and what we think that people will be into." TV on the Radio's path may look a little more certain, but they too are forging beyond the catalog that made them so beloved and exploring new terrain.
But beyond the most apparent reasons for BSS and TVOTR choosing to tour together — they are admitted fans of one another, they think they'll get along, and they and their respective camps presumably foresee the tour doing well monetarily — perhaps there's a bigger, more resonant reason for why they're drawn to one another. They each have the sort of indie cred every Brooklynite barista and his waifish part-time-musician cohorts could dream of, and they both pretty much define — along with outfits like Animal Collective and Yeah Yeah Yeahs — what "indie rock" even means in the 21st century. On top of that, their music is genuinely resounding and unique. Each band is in the unlikely position of being able to write its own destiny. So when you're at that level, why not pick one of the other three or four bands that sit beside you on that top shelf?
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