The Vancouver conglomeration (with Virginian chanteuse Neko Case as an added bonus) The New Pornographers are back with their second album for Matador, Electric Version, the follow up to 2000’s out-of-left-field killer Mass Romantic. The sound here is distinctly similar to what is on their debut, yet certain aspects of their game are even sharper. Forget about a sophomore slump, the Pornographers come out swingin’, and most shots are headed for the fence.
The so-called “supergroup” sounds more like an actual band on this one instead of reeking of collaboration as they did before. The songs are sharper and the melodies tighter, the production is better and the mood a little looser. The root elements from Mass Romantic are intact—Carl Newman still knows not only how to write a hook, but to play it to its max and Case’s voice soars heavenward—but with the improvements in the band, everything that was good on Mass Romantic now sounds even better.
Newman fills as much space with sound as possible—there is always a buzzing guitar, well-placed vocal harmonies or keyboards between all the cracks—yet the atmosphere remains spacious and breezy. To take the road that has been traveled constantly with these Pornographers, Phil Spector and Brian Wilson are the obvious references, but there are also shades of Todd Rundgren, The Kinks and Cheap Trick.
Electric Version features a sound so bright and lush, intelligent yet fun, that I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. Throw away all of your preconceptions about what music you can and can’t like and you’ll find yourself loving every minute here.
From the raucous sing-a-long “From Blown Speakers” to the more sedated “Loose Translation” to “Testament to Youth in Verse,” there isn’t a mistake to be found. Simply put: album of the summer.