Brendan Canning's "Home Wrecking Years"
By Mandi Kimes
Brendan Canning, founding member of Broken Social Scene, released Home Wrecking Years via Arts & Crafts. Home Wrecking Years is a vibe-y backyard barbecue-ready indie album with smart and breezy 4-minute pop tunes that run the gamut from 90s-era college rock to tropical baroque pop. Home Wrecking Years is the first full band album since Broken Social Scene's 2010 Forgiveness Rock Record, featuring contributions from Broken Social Scene members Sam Goldberg and Justin Peroff, and The Stills/Kings Of Leon’s Liam O’Neil. Home Wrecking Years captures a throwback ’90s sound lifted by ’00s ambience, all set against the backdrop of his beloved Toronto.
Home Wrecking Years was written between the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2015. Canning found the inspiration for it while building the live band for his more acoustic 2013 You Gots 2 Chill album. “Maxing out as a six-piece we jammed in my living room, making enough pleasant noise for the neighbors to enjoy during that summer of 2014,” recalls the Toronto songwriter.
First track “Book It To Fresno” features churning electric guitars and pounding drums forming a wall with Canning’s sweet tenor vocals. “The first song on the record, ’Book it to Fresno’, was an immediate tune for our band. No talking, just rocking. Everyone listening to one another, comfortable with the role they play in the band," Canning explained. “Book it To Fresno” showcases Canning’s penchant for wall-of-sound guitars and syrupy vocal melodies. The first strum of wall-of-sound guitars with a pulsating drumbeat wakes you up from the chilled out summer vibes and gets you ready for the change of the season of new school, job, etc. and getting back into the hustle and bustle of it all. Canning sings, “I’m not here to laugh at your mistakes // I’m just here to offer a break,” in the chorus, and this feel good tune sets the tone for moving forward from an uncomfortable transition. The occasional introduction to trumpets in the mix reminds you of the familiar Broken Social Scene brass section you’ve grown accustomed to, and brings you at ease with the rest of the mix.
The second song “Vibration Walls” is a chill, vibe-y tune that continues the acceleration of energy from the previous song, but in a more mellow tone. The lush harmonies in the words “Vibration walls” attracts the ear to wonder exactly how many voice parts are integrated to create that sound. You get a sense of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” in the chorus, mixed with a southern desert-like tone peeking through the chord structure. The whole song from start to finish is a riveting adventure of wall-of-sound vibes throughout for a song so appropriately named. “Keystone Dealers” is a soaring jazz and indie rock-inflected track that echoes melodically out of Canning’s imagination in waves of strange, irresistible smoothness. Horns and strings combine with a Casio-samba rhythm while Canning’s dulcet tones stretch over the mix in a cool breeze. “Keystone Dealers” is the Bossa Nova moment on the record, while Canning admits, “It's one of a few moments on the record that allows the listener some real pause and breath.” The breezy summertime jazz tone of the tune relaxes the listener after the beautiful but aurally intense last two tracks. The trumpets are the true spotlight of the song, with its soaring solo in the bridge and a solid brass section accompanying underneath, like a wave holding a boat afloat.
“Hey Marika, Get Born” begins with a Simon & Garfunkel-esque guitar strum until the drums burst through to set the forward-moving steady rhythm. Vocally, Canning channels Rogue Wave vocal styles to produce a smooth timbre in this starburst of musicality. The tone switches gears for “Once I Was a Runner,” a mellow, soulful guitar-laced track. This track is a more lush guitar-focused tune with embellishments in the vocals sprinkled throughout. The layered harmonies in the chorus resemble the those previously heard on “Vibration Walls.” It’s the feel-good sound of “Boys of Summer” meets soulful R&B. “Nashville Late Pass” is the most in-your-face song when it comes to the balance of every element of the song. There’s no real dynamic or stepping-in-and-out for instruments to allow others to shine. It’s mostly loud guitars, consistently on point yet repetitive drumming, and drowned-out vocals. It’s not my favorite track compared to the previous five that I liked, but it’s not terrible. I think with the proper mixing to allow dynamic balance and a range of quiet moments versus loud moments instead of one consistent loud moment for over four minutes, this song could be better.
“Work Out in the Wash” reintroduced the brass section as a soulful laidback funk tune redirects the focus of the album. While the drumming nature of the song is boring (snare hits on every beat with no variation inbetween during the chorus), the upstroke of the guitars met with the sultry brass section makes up for the lack of percussive variety. Broken Social Scene fans will dig the way “Money Mark” starts with the multiple guitar melodies interwoven into each other like an old BSS song. The guitar intricacies make this song the beautiful musical canvas full of baroque-indie-rock goodness. The accelerating end to the song burst through the seams and set this song off into a flurry of rock anthem endings.
“Sleeping Birds Like Lasers” is the slowed-down electronic ballad set to drum machines and bell-tone synths. The atmospheric harmonies hang in the sky like stars while Canning guides the listener through a flight of simple yet beautifully interesting melodies. The bowed-guitars sit in the background as the keys take control as the landing pad for this soaring tune. The last song of the album “Baby’s Going Her Own Way” is sonically similar to the previously mentioned Fleetwood Mac tune that almost bears the same name. The song almost sounds like a reprise of “Vibration Walls” with its lushness and guitar intricacies. The drums lay back into a subtle groove to let Canning take the lead of pioneering the melody alongside the rhythmic guitars. Honestly speaking, this song doesn’t serve a great album finisher; it definitely deserves to be bumped up near the middle of the album. This song is going along smoothly before abruptly and without warning ending: no slowing down the tempo, no resolve in the chords, nothing. The song just ends. And you’re left confused with the way Home Wrecking Years ends, and why they chose to do so. Is it a representation of how relationships end? Is it merely a production error? Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t translate well to the listener.
Brendan Canning’s first full-band effort is that: an effort, and a great one. There are definitely some well-balanced gems on the album with a few songs that should have had more attention to detail of each instrument’s role in the song. However, it’s still a wonderful album, and one that I looked forward to from a member of a band I cherished in college. Give it a listen and decide for yourself if this wall-of-sound vibe rock album needed to slowly build the wall instead of launch it out of nowhere.