The New Pornographers
By: Sam Boyhtari
With their sixth LP, Vancouver’s indie rock icons deliver a fast paced, cohesive experience that stays fresh from start to finish, paying tribute to 80s style synth pop, as well as the Galaga soundtrack.
To those unfamiliar with The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers may conjure up images of its makers playing stadium shows for thousands of fans, rather than their usual cozy theatres and halls. The album’s sound is remarkably bombastic, even amidst all of the band’s past material. The title track slams into listeners, making for an epic introduction to a track list that is both varied and energetic, all of it packed with the charming melodic vocal content that The New Pornographers are adored for.
If you haven’t experienced a New Pornographers record before, each one is a multicolored excursion into the artistic presences of A.C. Newman, Daniel Bejar (See Destroyer) and Neko Case. Each of these musicians offers a unique brand of songwriting, creating a sense of diversity about the band’s records that has appealed to fans since the release of Mass Romantic in 2000. With Brill Bruisers, this sense of artistic diversity is fully present, but even more seamless and fluid. Perhaps even more pleasant and surprising is the heightened interaction of Newman’s niece, Kathryn Calder, who has more of a presence on this LP than Neko Case or Bejar. Since her debut with the band on their 2005 release, Twin Cinema, Calder has continued to grow as a member of The New Pornographers, and this latest release sees her singing almost as much as Newman, often taking over the lead roles while Newman sinks back into the orchestral, synth-riddled textures that define many of these fantastic tracks.
The definite highlights here are the title track, with its fanfare of harmonies and blasting guitars, Bejar’s “War on the East Coast,” which features some of the catchiest vocal work of the entire package and showcases his songwriting wonderfully, and “Dancehall Domine,” a booming pop masterpiece that blends the voices of Calder and Newman to admirable affect.
None of the 13 songs outstay their welcome, each providing a different tone to a very seamless record, but a few of them do seem oddly underdeveloped or stagnant; “Drug Deal of the Heart,” Calder’s feature song, is sadly vacant and uninteresting, and it really doesn’t do her vocal work justice at all, nor does it ever blossom into anything. Similarly, Bejar’s second effort, “Born With a Sound”, is rather straightforward and basic, failing to hold its own amidst the rest of his work with the band. In addition, Neko Case seems strangely absent from most of this record, appearing in only two songs as a lead vocalist, and one other as a secondary singer, which may disappoint fans who are used to her more active participation in past records.
Brill Bruisers is, at its heart, a rock album, and it is enjoyable because it manages to supply a wide array of sounds and pop melodies while remaining fluid and fresh. With this said, there are times when textures seem a bit thin, reduced to chugging guitars and glittering synths that don’t quite fill all the space, but for the most part, all of these songs are extremely rich and entertaining, stamped with the signature sounds of Newman, Calder, Case and Bejar. The New Pornographers’ latest work starts with massive energy and ends in the same fashion, and it is a most welcome addition to their steadily growing legacy as a pop force to be reckoned with.
4 out of 5 Three-Dimensional Bruises