Broken Social Scene are one of those whose assumed trajectory of musical evolution is such that people who’d happily beat you to death for badmouthing You Forgot it in People will cheerily confess to never having felt the need to listen to debut album Feel Good Lost at any point in their lives. This is fair enough, in a way: BSS is so defined by its comically large numbers of regular members, copious guest stars and – conversely - the central guiding singer/songwriter force of Kevin Drew that you can kind of see why their stripped down, mostly instrumental first record has never really attracted the retrospective attention it probably should have done. Pity, then, KC Accidental, Drew and Charles Spearin’s pre-BSS instrumental project, a band separated from a mass audience by one album, a name change, and the fact that their two EP output - Captured Anthems for an Empty Bathtub and Anthems for the Could’ve Bin Pills – has been out of print virtually since release.
Basically, I think it’s pretty reasonable to have spent the bulk of your tenure as a BSS fan aware of these records’ existence, but generally totally incurious about hearing them. Well, thank goodness for this Arts+Crafts reissue: those who yearn for the warmer, weirder, more electronic but more human band of You Forgot It In People will find a heckuva lot to love in Anthems for the Could’ve Bin Pills, a record that’s virtually fully formed BSS.
Recorded way back in 1998’s Captured Anthems... might not be anybody involved's finest hour, but it’s still startlingly strong and fully formed, despite being dominated by the rather, er, unexpected seven moody minutes of Aphex-ish glitchtronica that comprise ‘Anorexic He-Man’. That said, while said track may be a little dated and incongruous, it’s pretty good, frantic drums and squiggly electronics set satisfyingly against a deep, dark, chilly synth line. Elsewhere ‘Kev’s Message To Charlie’ is straight up dicking around, ‘Something for Chicago’ is inconsequential and ‘Nancy and the Girdle Boy’ is some ferocious, jazzy drumming in search of a real point, but the 12 elegiac, organ-driven minutes of ‘Tired Hands’ makes for a ravishing closer. In the greater scheme of the BSS canon, it’s unfocussed and lacking in proper killer songs, but still, it stands up pretty darn well for a record that was, thrillingly, only initially released in a solitary Toronto record shop. (6)
On Anthems for the Could’ve Bin Pills Drew and Spearin have, in essence, arrived. Indeed, for all the merits of this year’s Forgiveness Rock Record, …Could’ve Been Pills is a slightly heartbreaking reminder of what has been jettisoned on the way to jam band Valhalla. It’s a quiet, comforting heartbeat of a record, full of intimate hush and gentle electronics, less slick and less loud than its predecessor, shorn of drum assaults and excess prannying around. ‘Instrumental Died in Bathtub and Took The Daydream With It’ is an elongated cousin to REM’s ‘New Orleans Instrumental No 1’, a sombrely pretty sepia dream that yields to the rich, foamy arpeggios and snug blankets distortion of ‘Residential Love Song’, which find their way like a tributary into ‘Silverfish Eyelashes’ - eight and a half minutes of bashful breaks bedecked with violins that sob like an angel. The penultimate ‘Them (Pop Song #33)’ is essentially a BSS song, being Drew’s first ever vocal and a duet with Emily Haines to boot. It’s five minutes of lowkey, distorted mumblings and barely suppressed euphoria, the type of soul-lightening loveliness that can only be knocked up on the cheap. On You Forgot It In People it’d still be a stand out; on Forgiveness Rock Record it’d seem wildly out of place, like the work of another band. There’s no going back now, for better or for worse, but if you miss the way Broken Social Scene were, these records are a window back to a special time. (8)