Nearly a decade before Broken Social Scene became the nexus of mainly Toronto-centric musicians, By Divine Right stood as the revolving door through which countless members of the city’s music scene passed at one time or another. Since then, By Divine Right, the brainchild of core member José Contreras – who remains the band’s sole (soul) constant member – have progressed into one of Canada’s most underrated but most enduring indie rock bands. Maybe you’ve never heard of them, but if you’re even slightly familiar with the early aughts of Canada’s independent music landscape, you probably know more BDR alumni than you realize. Ever hear of that award-winning chart-topper from a little town called Amherst, Nova Scotia, Leslie Feist? And, poetically, Brendan Canning passed through the band before going on to found Broken Social Scene.
I like to think every incarnation of By Divine Right since they formed in high school nearly a quarter of a century ago came together as a series of ‘organized accidents’. How else has there always been someone on hand to fill this and that role in the band?
At the very least, ‘organized accidents’ describes the prevailing sound of By Divine Right’s new ninth album. “Little You” and “Eating the Ghost” have the band clanking on this and that and seeing what comes of it – what they can immediately put to a jaunty piano line, for example. “Tremolodians” sounds like By Divine Right tossed a handful of sounds into the ocean, let them sink wherever they may and turned that random arrangement into an actually quite fluid composition. And strip away Slowdive’s lush glaze, and you may be left with “Zoomies” which glows with very early-’90s shoegaze and dream pop. “Zoomies” might be what results if Yo La Tengo dunked Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl” in one of the Hoboken trio’s documentary-scoring seascapes.
Organized Accidents also packs many familiar moments that remind By Divine Right fans why they were fans in the first place. A deep groove on “Past the Stars” kicks off the album while the song reminds fans how becoming female vocals are for BDR. And “We F’n’R” (that’s “fuckin’ rule” when sung) shows that in all their years, BDR have staved off jadedness, never taking themselves too seriously; “We F’n R” could belong in a class of humour and lightheartedness along with “Soft Machine” and their non-album cut “Titty Shaker”. BDR have also always had a penchant for penning lullabies (“The Pearl”, “Floating Away”), and here, they deliver another enchanting one with a bit of the ramshackle weariness of “beat them all” romanticism.
Perhaps I’ve never listened to By Divine Right’s lyrics closely enough – always too distracted by their textbook-before-there-was-a-textbook penchant for power-pop and heady, stoner blues-rock – but for the first time, I’ve noticed that Contreras really seems to be saying something personal beyond romantic yearnings: “And I’m trying / I’m trying / I’m trying to grow,” he sings on “Mutant Message”, curiously titled after By Divine Right’s previous 2009 album. The song could pass as a reworked version of “I Will Hook You Up” from Mutant Message with more emphasis on expanding the song’s instrumentals rather than its melodics.
Still, perhaps the most poignant and encouraging lyrics on Organized Accidents are on “Little You”. Contreras elaborates on the persevering attitude he declares on “Mutant Message”: “Oh, I don’t know where all my friends went / Maybe they’re down in the basement / Well, every winner was a loser first / Everybody gets their bubbles burst / But I’m not gonna watch all my dreams die / When I still got a dream on the inside.”
By Divine Right prove that in 2013, with an admirable taste for curiosity, they are still capable of being more than just a rock’n’roll band devoted to ‘good vibrations’ and peace and love. Contreras and company may still be figuring out this ‘band’ thing, molting line-ups in an eternal search for the right fit, but it’s this search for the possibly unattainable that drives them away from complacency. I’ve been a fan of By Divine Right since I saw them sprinkling and powdering doughnuts by hand in their 1999 video for “Come For a Ride”, but I haven’t had a chance until now to formally say, as José Contreras sings on “We F’n R”, “I’m glad I met you.”
Figure out for yourself how By Divine Right will bring their curious spirit to life when they touch down in Vancouver at the Cobalt on July 14.