One of the New Pornographers' trademark elements of their overall sound are the vocal arrangements, and they are sounding fabulous here.
Title: Brill Bruisers
Artist: The New Pornographers
Label: Matador Records
Time: 13 songs/44 minutes
I have plenty of Christian friends who don't have the same musical awareness I do, and I take a bit of perverse pleasure in telling them I really enjoy the New Pornographers. After the funny looks and even concerned comments, I explain that it's just a band name and has pretty much nothing to do with the music they put out.
I've been following the work of A.C. Newman since his 90's days with Zumpano, and over the last twenty years, he's developed into a pretty fine songwriter. I've always thought that culminated in 2005's Twin Cinema, the NP's best release to date. The couple of records after that were good, but not great, but now, with Brill Bruisers, the band seems to be reaching for greatness again.
I'm reviewing this at the same time I'm reviewing the new Sloan record, and it's striking how two bands that share the same genre, power pop, can have such a different sound from each other. Both bands use the framework of the genre to create something impressively unique, rather than letting the genre define the sound for them.
One of the New Pornographers' trademark elements of their overall sound are the vocal arrangements, and they are sounding fabulous here. The anthemic title track kicks off the album with a strong punch, hitting us hard with lush harmonies blended through the song's mid-tempo stomp. A few tacks later, we get "Backstairs," a driving rocker with electro-pop touches that gains gravitas by relying heavily on its meaty vocal arrangements. It's the most confident I've heard the band ever sound.
Speaking of electro-pop, the band dabbles with it quite a bit here. The three songs written by part-time member Dan Bejar all dip into these sounds. Both "War on the East Coast" and "Born With a Sound" blend crunchy guitar riffs with synth lines while the synths on "Spidyr" simmer and bubble before tossing in an avant garde harmonica solo over the noisy ending.
Other standouts include "Champions of Red Wine," featuring Neko Case on lead vocals and the incredibly catchy "Dancehall Domine," which will stick in your head for days once you hear it.
This record doesn't quite reach the creative level of Twin Cinema, but it's easily one of the best releases the band has put out. There's plenty of great stuff here to enjoy.