The New Pornographers
I get the feeling A.C. Newman would be a pretty good writer for The Simpsons. No wait, hear me out. Y’know how episodes of The Simpsons these days give the distinct feeling that the writers sat in a room with a list of wildly divergent plotlines and tried to fuse them together to make a reasonably coherent episode (or at least to get Homer and company from point A at the beginning of the episode to point B at the end)? That’s a little bit how Newman’s songs are, taking unexpected turns in melody and style throughout Together. In fact, Newman’s occasionally circus-like contributions here may be some of the densest songs the band has ever recorded. Inventively arranged opener “Moves” has its sawing cellos and staccato piano. “Up in the Dark” with its gang of harmonies insinuates itself and gets under your skin like the best pop songs often do. “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” (dig that title) is more stripped down but no less meticulously arranged and performed.
But Newman is of course not the only show in the New Pornographers. Billed as a Canadian indie-rock supergroup when they emerged in 2000, the members of The New Pornographers for the most part are now more famous for being in this band than they were their previous bands. The ringer here though is alt-country chanteuse Neko Case. Her always fantastic pipes get a showcase on “Crash Years,” the record’s strongest song and an amateur whistler’s dream. She also takes the lead on “My Shepherd,” a very pretty, ear-caressing song that reveals new layers on every listen. Together as a whole, it should be noted, is well worth a listen on a good set of headphones just to hear those layers and carefully placed bells and whistles.
The other female voice in The New Pornographers is Kathryn Calder, who is Newman’s niece and who is also in the band Immaculate Machine. She and Newman share vocals on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” another of the album’s strongest offerings.
But some of Together‘s greatest pleasures lie in the songs of Dan Bejar, who also records as Destroyer. His David Bowie-meets-Robyn Hitchcock contributions here are some of the strongest he has made to a New Pornographers disc. That’s especially true of “If You Can’t See My Mirrors,” a tune with another great title that makes for an even better chorus. “Daughters of Sorrow” is alternately squalling and sensitive. And “Silver Jenny Dollar” is one of Bejar’s best pure pop delights.
Together may not quite hit the heights of the first two New Pornographers records (2000’s Mass Romantic and 2003’s Electric Version), but that might be asking too much. This record is an endlessly inventive hope chest of party favors from what continues to be a pretty super supergroup. It’s like a great episode of The Simpsons with Krusty, Mister Burns, and Comic Book Guy… or something like that.
The New Pornographers: www.thenewpornographers.com