Vedder told the Los Angeles Times that he identifies with the subject of Krakauer’s book and Penn’s film, Chris McCandless, who left his life behind in an attempt to find himself in nature. In many of these tunes’ lyrics, Vedder could be channeling McCandless. Sometimes he does it elegantly: “Long nights allow me to feel I’m falling,” he sings over twinkling electric guitar in “Long Nights.” “I am falling.” Other times, as in “Far Behind,” his wisdom sounds like something you’d find inside a fortune cookie: “Empty pockets will allow a greater sense of wealth.” Deep.
If Into the Wild communicates a rock-and-roll superstar’s hankering for some precious alone time, Spirit If . . . (Arts & Crafts) relates something a little different — namely, just how much Kevin Drew loves his friends. This is Drew’s show, but scan the liner notes and you’ll see that nearly every member of Broken Social Scene appears on the album, along with folks from other Canadian indie acts — Metric, Stars, and Do Make Say Think, whose Ohad Benchetrit and Charles Spearin produced the album with Drew. (A few Americans crop up too; they include ex-Pavement guitarist Spiral Stairs and Mascis, showing the young people how it’s done.) You don’t even need to go to the liner notes — just take a look at the surtitle on the album cover: “Broken Social Scene Presents . . .”
Drew says he didn’t necessarily set out to make a solo album. “I was just recording stuff over the last couple of years because I wanted to realign myself with the idea of making a record. I wanted to refresh the idea.” He adds that it had been a while since he’d been able to call all the shots in the studio, and the idea appealed to him. But when he finished laying down the basic tracks of the new songs, it was obvious who he’d turn to for help to flesh them out. “I have incredible friends who I’ve been lucky to be able to make a music career with.”
Like the BSS output, Spirit If . . . overflows with sound. In “Lucky Ones,” a pulsing post-rock groove keeps accumulating layers of detail till it threatens to buckle under the weight of them all; by the tune’s end, even Tom Cochrane — the aging Canadian rocker responsible for “Life Is a Highway” — has joined the fray. And with its bleeping synths, queasy horns, and rustic guitar twang, “Big Love” can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a futuristic R&B tune or a space-cowboy lament.
Still, Drew does mark out this material as his own by slowing things down and working in a more contemplative mode than his band have lately. Unlike the 2005 Broken Social Scene, which drew uncommon power from its headlong beats, Spirit If . . . takes plenty of time to revel in the beauty of its surfaces. Drew says he laid down much of the album’s drums on MIDI, then invited Scenester Justin Peroff to “come in and do his thing around them.” He calls Peroff a “beast” and says that “what you’re hearing on the last Broken Social Scene record is the urgency of that beast.” On Spirit If . . ., he says that he was drawn more to “a certain rhythm I’m addicted to. I call it the Stereolab beat.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean he planned it that way. “This record just kind of happened. I didn’t go into the studio and make a map of it.” Drew laughs. “I’ve never been able to do that with my life, let alone with a record.”