Review Summary: Pity the fool who has to make the New Pornos greatest hits CD in ten years.
Some records embed themselves in a very specific place or time. They are the equivalent of a neural land mine, pressure sensors activating upon a certain chord or turn of melody and sending a rush of memories floating up into wires that cross and curl with little rhyme or reason. The Killers’ Hot Fuss
reminds me very distinctly of the winter before my freshman exams in high school, my body reclined and my feet on my desk. Without Feathers
by the Stills reminds me of sitting by the pool the summer before I graduated high school, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. The New Pornographers don’t touch those same tightly circumscribed synapses. When I listen to 2005’s Twin Cinema
, my whole brain lights up. It’s a record that reminds me of happiness and riding around with my friends and jamming it in my headphones as I fall asleep. It reminds me not of a particular time in my life but an era.
may still be their peak, but listening to the New Pornographers as a whole is, for me, a generally uniform experience. There’s something primitive in the band’s ability to make the largest, crunchiest sounds seem effortless, hooks practically falling out of each member’s pockets and produced into records beefy and packing a mean left hook, the kind of songs that the term “power-pop” was designed for. Hearing the band’s sixth and latest, the excellently titled Brill Bruisers
, it reminds me of when listening to the New Pornographers was all I ever wanted to do, all the time. It’s not that 2007’s Challengers
and 2010’s Together
are bad records – in fact, they’ve aged quite well, particularly the former – but that they felt like a band writing for a certain purpose. The New Pornographers were not meant to be self-conscious, and listening to those two records you can see the edges fraying as the group pokes and prods at the taut sheen of their past. Brill Bruisers
isn’t so cautious; it punches a stadium-sized hole with the multilayered harmonies, crashing drums and titanic melody of its title track and re-announces the New Pornographers as the band to come to when you prefer not just getting a high on your pop, but overdosing on it.
As maybe the only true indie “supergroup” still going strong, the New Pornographers' strength has always been the diversity they’ve brought to the table. A.C. Newman is the steady hand at the wheel, the consistent captain. Neko Case is the essential voice, an injection of pathos and fire for songs that would otherwise get lost in the mix. Dan Bejar, of course, is chaos. Brill Bruisers
emphasizes these traits while melding each personality’s distinctive voice into a singular vision better than perhaps any record since Mass Romantic
. “War on the East Coast” is a Bejar song, but aside from his manic voice, its wild arpeggios and ramshackle charm are as powerful a straightforward pop song Bejar has ever put down. The driving “Marching Orders” stomps resolutely forward, augmented by spacey keys and a defiant coda, Case re-purposing that old slogan “so hell no, we won’t go” into a not-so-subtle reaffirmation of purpose. Perhaps part of Brill Bruisers’
success is the newfound layers of vocoder and space-age-via-‘80s-pop production that permeates the record, turning a song like “Backstairs” into a weird, offbeat rocker with an almost claustrophobic amount of sounds piled on top of one another. At other points, it’s obvious the interplay between its veteran members has never been better. The increased role of Kathryn Calder in the mix is one example, her voice playing off Case and mirroring pitch on the meditative, dreamy “Champions of Red Wine.” Another is the emphasis on Kurt Dahle’s drums, which sound downright huge; listen to them crash down on Bejar’s bizarre harmonica solo on “Spidyr,” creating the kind of eccentric contrasts Bejar is so fond of.
At thirteen tracks, Brill Bruisers
is almost too much adrenaline in one sitting. Some songs get lost in the clutter, like the trivial, twee “Another Drug Deal of the Heart,” and “Fantasy Fools,” which has the misfortune of being placed between two of the greatest songs on the album. And the lilting “Hi-Rise” seems like little more than a sparkling exhibit of Newman, Case and Calder’s impressive harmonics, the requisite breather before the record’s conclusion. Yet Brill Bruisers’
brashness and its willingness to punch things up to 11 make it easy to forgive them. That aforementioned conclusion, “You Tell Me Where,” for one, the kind of anthem you can imagine the band closing shows with for years. “Dancehall Domine,” arguably the most relentless example of the New Pornos' rediscovered immediacy. When Bejar sings, “I wanted you quite often / in that I wanted you all of the time,” on “Born With a Sound,” he’s singing gorgeously and ghoulishly to an unknown woman, as Bejar likes to do, but it’s also a winking summing up of the band's irrepressible energy, too: everything, all the time. Brill Bruisers
is spread everywhere at once, loud and crass and saturated with color and nearly fit to burst. It won’t make very many memories, but it will create a hell of a lot of good times.