Broken Social Scene’s second and third albums, You Forgot It In People and Broken Social Scene, remain two of my favourite records of all time. On those records they perfected a crucial balance of accessibility and experimentation (although the chaos of the self-titled, which erred toward the latter, turned some listeners away). The grand exuberance and sheer messiness of their sound truly made you feel like you were listening to 20-odd people rocking their hearts out in a room, with so much feeling and energy and love to share that they couldn’t dwell on the same motif or arrangement for more than twenty seconds. Instrumentation would appear, decorate the song’s canvas for a moment, spark our imagination, and disappear without a trace; production would chop bits in and out and change our focus unexpectedly; you’d be second-guessing if a song had actually properly started, or finished yet, and then BAM! they hit you with an explosive chorus out of nowhere. It sounds like chaos, and it was chaos, but it was beautiful, colourful chaos. And Broken Social Scene well and truly had the firepower and palette to deliver it. It just worked.

Hug of Thunder, much like its predecessor Forgiveness Rock Record, offers some enjoyable songs, big choruses, and fun ideas, but these ideas don’t leave me feeling nearly as inspired as what came before them. In general, Hug of Thunder feels a little business as usual – songs are mostly cut to a clean four or five minutes, they start, finish, and end how you’d expect, and the group just doesn’t sound like fifteen people crammed in a room making beautiful chaotic noise anymore. The album offers 11 songs (‘Sol Luna’ classifies more as an ambient lead-in) of varying quality, but not much in the way of experimentation, creativity or new ideas. As a full-length, similar to Forgiveness Rock Record – which has its own merits and pitfalls – it didn’t captivate me quite like their earlier releases.

If I sound a bit Luddite, I don’t intend to. I’m all for artists reinventing their sound, but the issue here is that Broken Social Scene haven't really reinvented their sound either. They've taken the safer, less creative and experimental aspects of their earlier work and made a whole album out of it. But to their credit, at times they also retain their ability to deliver life-affirming choruses, both loud and quiet – see ‘Halfway Home’, ‘Hug Of Thunder and ‘Gonna Get Better’. I often wonder if the secret combination that I fell in love with in Broken Social Scene’s mid-noughties output was their collaboration with producer David Newfeld, who was partially responsible for much of the frenetic and fractured vibrancy infused into those releases.

That said, I don’t think Hug of Thunder is a bad album. It’s a perfectly adequate indie-rock release, with some shining moments. ‘Stay Happy’ is a particular highlight for me, and probably comes closest to what I most enjoy about BSS. After a lethargic, meandering vocal introduction, drummer Justin Peroff delivers an exquisitely tight, punchy, drum pattern that drives the backbone of what is easily the production highlight of the album – the drum production is just so… juicy. Laid on top of the rhythm is a thick but smooth bassline, a brace of palm mute guitars in gorgeous stereo, and an effervescent flute melody to decorate. And to top it all off, you have a captivating vocal performance from Ariel Engle.

’Halfway Home’ returns to the joyous exuberance and anthemic frenzy that most of us fell in love with when we first heard songs like ‘Cause=Time’ and ‘7/4 (Shoreline)’, while ‘Hug of Thunder’ is perhaps one of the most unique Broken Social Scene tracks in ten years. It’s quietly assured, contemplative, and generally gorgeous thanks to a brilliantly subtle feature from Leslie Feist; vocally, the contributions from the female members are what really stand out on this record. She delivers the seemingly mundane final line “There was a military base across the street/ we watch them training while we lead,” with a quiet restraint that imbues it with a sense of a powerful affirmation. To use her own words, an “oxymoron of our lives” indeed.

Unfortunately, aside from a couple of other stronger tracks (‘Gonna Get Better’ and ‘Towers and Masons’ – one of Brendan Canning’s contributions), the rest of the album isn’t something I have a desire to return to. I would go so far to say that Hug of Thunder has some of BSS’s weakest or perhaps just least inspired material to date. ‘Vanity Pail Kids’, ‘Victim Lover’ and ‘Skyline’ are all songs I struggle to listen to in full. They bring nothing to the table for me, offering tedious uninventive melodies and substandard songwriting, coming off as material that should have been cut on the drawing board long ago. Even the closer, ‘Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse’, which does engage with BSS’s lost penchant for instrumentals in its first half, feels half-baked. The instrumental is underwhelming, while the vocal-driven section is overbearing and intense without a strong enough melody to back it up – unlike their self-titled LP’s closer ‘It’s All Gonna Break’. Perhaps it’s intentional, and on paper it’s an interesting idea, but in its execution it’s just not very compelling.

Honestly, I probably won’t return to half the songs on this album, but I will come back for a few songs now and then. Even the stronger songs have their superior predecessors, though I do think ‘Hug of Thunder’ and ‘Stay Happy’ do their part of bringing something fresh to the Broken Social Scene repertoire. I regularly revisit their early work (even their debut Feel Good Lost on occasion), but I don’t believe Broken Social Scene will ever make an album like You Forgot It In People or the self titled again (Kevin Drew is on record stating that while he loves Broken Social Scene he doesn’t want to go through its creative process again). I don’t think I want them to either, but I’d like to see them try something a bit bolder if there is a next time, and here’s hoping that it doesn’t take another seven years.