Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hook & Resolve: Those New Pornographers

So it has been a little while since I have written about music and that is mainly because I have been trying to figure out what to say about The New Pornographers, who have recently been in heavy rotation in my music machines. Specifically, I have been listening to Twin Cinema and their most recent release, Together. I am not sure I have anything real coherent to say here, so let's just take a shot at some observations about this over-the-top power pop collaborative.
  • First, let's talk about their name--I mean c'mon folks, really?! Yeah I know it is a too-smart-for-words reference to a Japanese film, but have a little sympathy for the parents would ya? Like I need to explain pornography to my ten-year old when he wonders who is playing on the car stereo!
  • Okay, seriously. I like them (a lot) but I don't think either of these efforts really constitutes a top-of-the heap album (for different reasons) although each one is chock-full of stellar singles.
  • These dudes, particularly A.C. Newman, can write one mean pop tune. The big, amped-up power-pop sound that is The New Pornographers runs through both albums. These core songs are crammed full of sound and have near perfect sonic-hooks that always shift and resolve in the most satisfying of ways.
  • At the same time their lyrics are interesting and challenging--nothing really straightforward here, but the kind of lyrics that engage and make you contemplate what is driving the song.
  • That said, Twin Cinema is the stronger of the two outings IMHO because it has more variation in song style and takes more chances--it takes the full-bore power pop tunes to the max, like the opening title track, but also includes more crafted, mix-tempo tunes.
  • The problem with Twin Cinema in my mind is that it is just too long. And by too long, I don't actually mean the actual length, but rather the quality of songs for as many as there are--this is an album that could use one more walk through by the producers to lose two or three tunes (I have my recommendations). As Slant pointed out in their review, this album "overstays its welcome."
  • On the other hand, Together does a better job on the length and coherence front, but also isn't quite as adventurous. More mid-tempo power pop, less variation both toward the soft side and the over-the-top side. In fact, I have to disagree with Pitchfork's assessment that "Together's quietest track 'Valkyrie and the Roller Disco' feels like a speed bump in the middle of an album that could have used an extra jolt of energy." That song might be a little sweet, but it offers contrast that the rest of the album would benefit from.
  • Now, Dan Bejar writes the minority of songs on these albums but they definitely stand apart from Newman's and I have mixed feelings here. On TC I am not real moved by them and given the length issue, they are chopping block material for me. On Together, however, they give perhaps the best contrast on the album (and are just better songs than on TC) and so they seem critical to the album as a whole.
  • Now there seems some debate about how much Neko Case is used on the new album vs. older albums, but it seems clear to me she is more prominent on Together and that is all for the good. In fact, a heavy dose of her and Kathryn Calder is a recipe for success as far as I can tell.
  • On one hand, this band seems like it is destined to write great songs, but still have to see what I think about their ability to put together a great album (and I am going to have to decide if it is worth it to explore other efforts to figure this out).
  • Just not to end on a critical note--I have really enjoyed letting this big, infectious tunes bury me in sound. You should too, particularly as a summer indulgence.
But here is a band that really makes me wish for a wider readership as I would really like to know what others think. I am going to drop four tunes on you, but this is not a band to judge on such a small sample. I think you need to really spend some time to figure out what is going on here. Nevertheless, here are the samples--aimed more at giving those new to these folks a sample, than necessarily my favorites.

From Twin Cinema we have "These Are the Fables," a great Neko Case led tune with wonderful resolution at the end. That is followed by "Sing Me Spanish Techno," a straight forward mid-tempo NP pop-rock piece. From Together I offer up "Crash Years" which again showcases Neko in front of that signature NP sound followed by "Silver Jenny Dollar" which is a Bejar-penned-tune and demonstrates the different sound he works out of the band.

And of course, interested parties should Buy the Albums!

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