Review Summary: The New Pornos diversify their assets.
New Pornographers frontman Carl Newman recently told Pitchfork in an interview that “sometimes the songs are definitely about something, but sometimes I just like the sound of things.” If there’s a better logic behind the long and impeccably catchy career of this indie-pop “supergroup,” I can’t find it. From 2000’s Mass Romantic
, the band has churned out some of the best, most intricate indie pop this side of Belle & Sebastian, but with a hell of a lot more muscle than most of their contemporaries. And it’s never been about just what exactly Newman or Neko Case or Dan Bejar have been trying to say, but rather how they’ve said it: in Case’s throaty, powerful vocals; through Bejar’s quirky, avant-pop compositions; via Newman’s distinctive brand of hyper-charged, sugar-rush pop. It’s fitting, then, that the appropriately named Together
shows the band working more in sync with each other than ever before, following more along the softer side of things that Challengers
explored but beefing up the hooks that that record so often lacked.
is nowhere near the relentless triumphs of Twin Cinema
or Electric Version
, but from a band that’s already made the defining power pop records of the decade, perhaps exploring new sounds isn’t so bad after all. And where Challengers
ventured astray with songs that never really managed to stick, Together
keeps it all from falling apart, whether it be on the hard-hitting glam-rock of thudding opener “Moves” or the riff-tastic sing-a-long “Your Hands (Together).” These are songs that throw everything and more into the melting pot of the New Pornos sound and come out the better for it. They rarely, if ever, mean anything – a song like “Silver Jenny Dollar” is so good precisely because it knows directly where the hook is and hits it hard and fast and generously, an even bigger surprise when you realize this is Dan Bejar, the New Pornos’ resident weirdo, making it to the money chorus in record time and feeling content to stay there. At times, this is a disappointment, as when a song like “If You Can’t See My Mirrors” reveals itself as perfectly acceptable pop in the realm of the New Pornos, but lacks that certain bite and vigor that made Bejar contributions like “Jackie Dressed in Cobras” or “Myriad Harbour” such rare treats.
At times, however, it seems like the New Pornos are content to rest on their laurels. Songs like “Up in the Dark” or “A Bite Out Of My Bed” would blow away their partners on any other rote power pop band’s record, but here they seem more like the New Pornos running through the motions than anything particularly groundbreaking. Despite it’s clear desire to be an epic closer in the vein of “Stacked Crooked,” “We End Up Together” really has no reason to extend past four minutes as egregiously as it does. Even songs like “Your Hands (Together)” seem like nothing special on first listen, requiring more than a few spins to appreciate the vocal interplay and the twining melodies. Thank God, then, for Neko Case, who explodes to the forefront on first single “Crash Years” and dominates Together
as she has few New Pornos albums in recent memory. It’s her dynamic pipes that really hold the record together, whether in a lovely duet with Newman on “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” or making the one-two punch of “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” and “My Shepherd” the centerpiece of the album. Bejar might not up to his usual tricks, but Case more than makes up for it – her songs are what lift Together
out of what could have been another insipid Challengers
-esque morass and turn it into something new, something unique, and something markedly powerful in a way the New Pornos haven’t been since 2005.
While Case might be the soul behind the best songs here, Together
still comes off as the band’s strongest group
effort, remarkable when one considers that many of their previous efforts could be characterized with “oh, that’s a Bejar song,” and “ that one is definitely all Carl.” Here, Bejar sounds like Newman and vice versa, and while Case is more than happy to take the lead, her constant backing work ties everything together effortlessly. It’s a record that, on first listen, doesn’t really mean much and rarely has a tune that stands out like previous, more straightforward New Pornos heavyweights, but on repeated listens bears some of the best fruit of their career. Again, Newman can describe the feel of the New Pornos distinctive sound better than I could: “when I’m depressed, I don’t want to express how depressed I am. I want to somehow make myself happier . . . I’ve always found I’m much happier when I’m happier.” There hasn’t been a better blueprint for the New Pornographers’ sound and mission, and, if all else fails, Together
will certainly make you smile.