Broken Social Scene was an intimate soundtrack raw because the internet was a little baby and made a lot of noise when you turned it on. For more than two decades, the Canadian collective has been writing hymn indie rock songs that make you want to sit on your crush’s lap at a house party or pull a beer in a cornfield. For fans of a certain age, their work has become synonymous with adolescence: Lorde is one such fan, and she memorably interpolated “The lover’s brooch” in “Ribs,” making his own teenage anthem. Old young dead, the band’s new career-spanning collection of B-sides and rarities won’t necessarily give you the same ecstatic elevation of their most beloved material. For the most part, these 14 tracks are pretty moderate listening. They aren’t the band’s best songs, and most of the record isn’t particularly memorable. Old Dead Young is best appreciated as the first retrospective from a band whose music is already about mythologizing and looking to the past.
Although it is essentially a bag of ephemera, Old Dead Young plays like a real album, sequenced like any Broken Social Scene record, moving from style to style and collaborator to collaborator. Opens “Far Out”, originally a pre-order EP released in anticipation of the 2010s Forgiveness rock record, is a delicate ambient interstitial, twisting and turning like a toy ballerina in a jewelry box. He follows up with the 2001 track “Do the 95,” where Kevin Drew’s vocals sound like baseballs are being thrown at you from inside a batting cage. The atmosphere becomes more subdued towards the middle of the album. “This house is on fire”, excerpt from Forgiveness rock record, evokes being stuck indoors during a snowstorm. It’s so tender that it’s almost a little twee. “National Anthem of Nowhere,” a Broken Social Scene version of a song written for Andrew Whiteman’s side project Apostle of Hustle, is just as cool, but not quite as schmaltzy. It’s calm and searching.
The second half of the collection features its strongest and most complicated material. 2006’s “Stars and Spit” is loud and jangly, with synth pops, stripped guitars and cavernous percussion. It’s a mashup of “Stars and Sons” and “Lover’s Spit” directed by producer David Newfield and originally released as a 7″ single from 2006. While certainly a bit gimmicky, the song is also oddly compelling “Until It’s Dead” is just as experimental but much more understated, incorporating sampling with cool-toned krauty guitars and synths. ‘having friends in magazines and telling ‘little lies’ while having ‘massive dreams.’” Most of the record feels close and personal, but ‘All My Friends’ is so simple and raw that it feels particularly respondent.
These songs sound like an old photo album of Polaroids and disposable camera images from the band’s formative years, though none of them feel so essential. They are less polished and intoxicating than the songs that would make the final cut of a studio album. But that’s the appeal: sometimes it’s the shots – the shots where everyone’s blinking and staring red-eyed – that seem the most candid, the best representation of the past, decades later.
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