Monday, 24 September 2007

KEVIN DREW WITH J. MASCIS: Backed Out On The...


The yellow-dominant package which houses Spirit If…, an album billed as “Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew,” is a smashing contrast to the raspberry red-dominant package which housed the last BSS album. Its brightness, especially when set against the sunny yellow spine of its new neighbour, Pacific Street by the Pale Fountains (there is an ineffable, if inexplicable, logic to my filing system), would be enough to cure approaching Seasonal Affective Disorder on its own.

As you would expect, Spirit If… could just as well have been credited as “Broken Social Scene Plays Kevin Drew” since more or less all of BSS turn up in the course of the record’s fourteen tracks (they were recorded over a span of two years); this reminds me heavily and pleasantly of the venerable seventies days of Ogun Records when sundry permutations of the same basic circle of twenty or so musicians worked in interchangeable bands playing the tunes of whoever was leading them at any stage. Indeed, Keith Tippett once confessed to my dad (Calton Studios, Edinburgh, solo recital, 1980) that he had a tendency to get so carried away with the music that he’d forget whose band he was playing in and had to look to see who was in the horn section to work it out; not an easy task when, at one stage, the personnel of Harry Miller’s Isipingo and Tippett’s own Sextet were identical except for the saxophonist – and yet the each group’s music was radically different from the other.

There is far too much invention, miraculous inspiration and creativity at work in Spirit If… to sum up properly at this early stage; suffice it to say that it is a major work, possibly more superficially “structured” than BSS’ “own” music but with so many unexpected facets and detours in its architecture that it continues to put most of the pabulum which currently passes for “alternative” or “indie” in this country to deserved humility. But in “Backed Out On The…” Drew achieves the remarkable feat of making his guest collaborator J Mascis interesting again. Beginning with modest pearls of individual, twinkling guitar notes, gradually resolving into stellar, delicate interplay like a sky shedding unnecessary grey, Drew and Mascis (together with Metric’s drummer Joules Scott-Key) suddenly move into fuzztone overdrive. Their excited thrash, combined with Scott-Key’s monstrous drum figures, make me think how good Be Here Now could have been if only Oasis had been that little bit braver.

Drew (lead) and Mascis (unmissable back-up) rage joyfully against what might be ambulance chasers, fairweather collaborators, sellouts or non-committal bystanders – “You thought you were leaving temporary grieving,” “You think it’s the season, temporary treason,” “If the lies they don’t fit ya, better trade some spit” – with the central motif of “Backed out on the cocks!” throttled out in splendid damn-you spleen, and at one point (3.59) barked out. In banishing betrayal and false prophecy they are clearly having one hell of a time – witness all the whoops, cheers and studio chatter which litter/decorate the song like tickertape punctum. Perhaps the most directly rock (but never rockist) performance yet to come from the BSS camp, and maybe even their first hit single if radio can tolerate “make sure they fuck you,” it also symbolises one of the collective’s central tenets: “Everyone can write this song, but they can’t write you and me.” Freak scene, we were born to run.