30 April 2009

Album Review: Years - Years

I consider myself one of a lucky few, and not just because of how pretentious I am--I listened to Years far ahead of its scheduled release date of May 5th. But I am redundant. Watch as I posture breathlessly about this indie-cum-experimental-cum-Dntel (because Jimmy Tamborello takes a category for himself) "masterwork." I promise to call it a masterwork at one point.

When I was debating whether or not to pick up this CD by Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think multi-instrumentalist Ohad Benchetrit, I was worried. Ohad never really made himself known to me, and I knew Do Make Say Think's reputation--slow movements, high crescendos, sometimes dull. Was I ready for an intelligent snoozefest?

I wasn't, which was fortunate, since Years is no sleep inducer. It's a magical, emotional post-rock masterwork. BSS and Do Make Say Think fans look elsewhere; this is not Ibi Dreams of Pavement or Almost Crimes, nor is it even related to Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead. Years is a guitar plucked and kneaded by nimble hands, in parts chopped up and down with a staccato knife and others angelic like a swan. This is a tome of sense and sense decayed, of times past and present.

If Broken Social Scene is baroque pop, then Years is baroque post-rock. All the most eccentric aspects of BSS are pulled together and introduced with new elements. All semblance of pop normalcy goes out the window when you hear album opener "Kids Toy Love Affair," a nearly neurotic orchestral combination that start starts with airborne woodwinds and flighty guitar strings pressed in punches. But even this serene yet puzzling arrangement is injected with a symphony of horns and nervous violins. The elements crowd together and crow with tension and the illusion of resolve. For an album opener, its as out there as "Clap Your Hands!" on Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but here it makes as much sense for totally different reason--this is the song that sails away from the port and tells you that your journey will not be in the standard format.

Years escapes most definitions of music, so it must be content to be called post-rock. It's not acoustic, although much of the album makes use of decidedly un-electric guitars. "Binary Blues" is You Forgot It In People it it was produced by Dntel coming hot off of Life Is Full of Possibilities, and "Are You Unloved?" The Glow, Part 2 the same way. Other parts veer off into wild, unexpected nooks and crannies, like the heartbreakingly subtle "Hey Cancer...Fuck You!" as it captures all the mood swings and chaos of a catastrophe even as the rhythm never deviates from its prescribed path. The fugues of "September 5. October 21. 2007" and "44" are about as experimental as an artist can swing without veering into crazy country.

On the other hand, Years quotes classic Broken Social Scene and proceeds to demonstrate why those hipster Canadians are so damn popular. "The Major Lift" is almost certainly inspired by "Canada vs. America" from their E.P. To Be You and Me, with its frantic horn calls and indecisive strings fractured by hi-hat stutters stolen from The Flashbulb, who's looked for them in his sock drawer twice by now. And I'd be damned if the horns (again with the horns!) that soliloquize in "Are You Unloved?" didn't take a leaf out of Feel Good Lost. "A Thousand times a Day (Someone Is Flying)" probably learned how to put that tremolo on its guitars by listening to "It's All Gonna Break."

Maybe I'm just seeing Broken Social Scene in Years where there is none. But some of the cues and references are spot-on, and in a collection of music as diverse and tangent as Years, it can't be just a coincidence. I refuse to believe it. And you know what? I'm happy with that. Years is loaded with emotion and nostalgia, and it'll be a delight both for fans of Broken Social Scene and people who obsessively listen to... well... I'm not sure. How does on classify the human heart set to music?

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