Matador – 2010
The New Pornographers, a Vancouver-based alt-pop septet, debuted in 2000 with their first full-length, Mass Romantic, and have since iterated permutations of their sound through four other LPs: Electric Version (2003); Twin Cinema (2005); Challengers (2007); and last year’s Together. During the past decade, the group’s presence has expanded to occupy featured spots on various late night TV talk shows and automotive commercials.
Longtime fans have come to expect certain recurring characteristics from the group, such as lead singer and songwriter Allan Carl Newman’s quirky and cryptic lyricism; sunny male-female harmonies; Neko Case’s gorgeous, throaty vocals; and fun, mid-tempo arrangements. As expected, Together delivers all of these elements in a satisfying, coherent package. Simply put, we know The New Pornographers can make good music. Still, can they make great music?
Throughout the album’s twelve tracks, the band hits many peaks. Lead single and Neko Case splendour Crash Years is one of Together’s strongest moments, with a solid chorus, sharp cello and cheerful whistling. Poppy opener Moves features Newman’s signature songwriting (one of the best arrangements the group has ever done).
If You Can’t See My Mirrors — one of three tracks member Dan Bejar penned for the album (alongside Silver Jenny Dollar and Daughters of Sorrow) — is arguably his best contribution to the band’s sprawling repertoire. Bejar’s songs, always colourful and unusual, have never sounded better within the context of an album. Consistency, once an issue for the band in the past, now represents one of Together’s best assets.
While the first six tracks are strong and tautly paced (closing off with ambling ballad My Shepherd), the second half is a bit bumpier. The slow-burning duet, Valkyrie in the Roller Disco, seems like a half-baked idea that, if left in the oven longer, could have come out a lot better. A Bite out of My Bed is a catchy, if not forgettable song, with substantial rhythm and muddled vocals. Also forgettable is Up in the Dark, a mediocre, mid-tempo tune with an unexpectedly pleasing chorus.
Weak points aside, however, the entire album sticks to the signature New Porno’s style. Their idiosyncrasies — characterized by jumpy verses, catchy choruses and unique instrumentation — has some fans drawing comparisons to fellow Vancouverites and indie contemporaries Mother Mother and Said the Whale.
Ultimately, Together‘s great moments (Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk and Crash Years) outweigh the underwhelming ones (Valkyrie in the Roller Disco and A Bite out of My Bed). This album is what a New Porno’s fan has come to expect. There were no huge risks taken, but the result is as satisfying and delicious as any of their previous offerings. Together hints at a level of magnitude that the band has yet to achieve, but to wonder about what that level may entail would be silly. You have to take The New Pornographers for what they are.
They’re like that old diner in the middle of your hometown: They don’t do anything revolutionary, and lack the coolness of their newer, fancier neighbours; but they can always be counted on to do what they do best in a comforting and refreshingly authentic way.
Brennan McCracken is a quixotic student, writer and actor, hailing from the East Coast of Canada. He is quietly obsessed with music and technology. You can follow his daily musings on Twitter, where he is known as @UnknownTrombone.