One of the many beautiful things about Broken Social Scene albums is that they can often seem like compilations due to the group’s many members and their democratic spirit. Many individual songs act as showcases for BSS’ various singers and songwriters, but instead of giving us a “(feat. Leslie Feist)” in the song title, or even a “Leslie Feist - lead vocals on tracks 4, 8, 11” in the liner notes, the band usually choose to leave things anonymous. It takes a devoted fan to know that “Swimmers” is Emily Haines’ show, or that it’s the rapper k-os who shows up for a late-in-the-game guest verse on “Windsurfing Nation.”
So far BSS’ upcoming album Hug Of Thunder has given us one Feist joint (the title track) and two tracks that feature gang vocals all of the way through (“Skyline” and “Halfway Home”), all of which have been very familiar to fans of the group. The fourth and final pre-release track, on the other hand, will have even the biggest BSS stans furrowing their brows and trying to identify the song’s lead vocalist. “Stay Happy” is a coming-out party for Ariel Engle, a new addition to the band who’s previously played in core member Andrew Whiteman’s side project AroarA.
Along with Engle comes a sound that’s pretty drastically different from everything else we’ve heard BSS attempt in the past. After a loping choral intro, things get chunky, thick, and perhaps even funky-- a word that may have never even appeared in a single BSS album review before. Granted, things are still baroque as ever, fleshed out with little horn flourishes and impeccably-sculpted guitar noise bursts, but there’s also booming synth brass bursts and quite a head-nodder of a beat. Outside of k-os’ cameo on “Windsurfing Nation,” this might be the only time that BSS has acknowledged the existence of hip-hop in their music.