In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of the release of Batman V Superman, we’re picking songs with some form of “versus” in the title.
When the notion of a military conflict between the United States and Canada comes up, it’s usually for the purposes of satire: goosings of American chest-thumping and Canadian pacifism like South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Canadian Bacon, or Propagandhi’s “A Speculative Fiction.” But the former British colonies that make up two-thirds of North America do have a history of crossing swords, most notably in the War Of 1812, when the U.S. invaded Canada in the international diplomacy equivalent of running into an ex at the bar and being really shitty to their new main squeeze.
Nearly 200 years after General William Hull led an unseasoned group of militiamen across the Detroit River and toward certain defeat, another preemptive shot flew across the 49th parallel, fired by a similarly ragtag band of misfits: the thundering Broken Social Scene outtake “Canada Vs. America.” Broken Social Scene’s membership counted upwards of 16 musicians at the time “Canada Vs. America” was recorded, and it sounds like every single one of them is playing on the track. It’s the band’s maximalist tendencies indulged to the nth degree, vocals layered on vocals layered on horns layered on distortion, marching into battle to the beat of a modified motorik. “Canada Vs. America”’s wall of sound is tall and hefty, and the construction process sometimes gets the best of the musicians and producer Dave Newfeld. The track opens with a feint toward the dance floor before a brass-and-tremolo fanfare calls it to attention, and all the tension that mounts afterwards must break for some mid-song placidity.
Any external tension, however, must be read into “Canada Vs. America.” The song’s refrain–“The big guns are coming out”—could be Broken Social Scene’s cheeky way of declaring sovereignty over American listeners, joining the colonization efforts of their compatriots Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers, and Tegan And Sara. Or it could be a preventative measure against U.S. foreign policy circa 2005—if so, such dread was prevalent among Canadian musicians at the time: “Canada Vs. America” and “A Speculative Fiction” were released during the same year. Or it could’ve just been the members of Broken Social Scene taking a piss, applying a faux-confrontational title to a recording that shared an album cycle with songs called “Handjobs For The Holidays” and “Death Cock.”
Either way, it’s clear that fictional battles between these two nations produce better music than the real thing: Broken Social Scene’s big guns, Propagandhi telling Fox where to shove its “laser pucks,” and Sheila Broflovski blaming Canada. What did the War Of 1812 ever give us? “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Chalk up another victory for the maple leaf.