The New Pornographers are one of those bands that I probably wouldn’t have discovered if not for Glorious Noise. The fervor of some of this site’s regular bulletin board contributors was so intense for this band at one point that you actually felt you had to buy a New Pornographers album as admission to reply to any post.
I’d like to know how many of those same supporters feel about this band since 2005’s Twin Cinema, because in my ears, there’s a sense that Carl Newman and company have lost bit a steam in their bid for power-pop perfection.
Has A.C. Newman been listening to some Jack White? Power chords and throbbing electric piano kick off the ballsiest song these chipper Canadians have ever recorded. The harmonies, as always, sound great. I hope the whole album is this badass.
Friday night was a fun bonus, but the real festival started on Saturday. That’s when the place filled up with perfectly unkempt indie kids, all the vendors were in full effect, and they kept scruffs like me out of the VIP section.
The importance of the weather cannot be overstated. When it’s hot as balls like it had been for the previous two Fork Fests, it becomes hard to drink the Goose Island beer and revolting to get too close to other sweaty people. When it’s over 100 and humid as hell, you need an American-style light lager. In fact, you need a lot of them. And you have to wear shorts even if your legs are pasty.
But when it’s mid-70s and breezy, you can wear jeans if you want, you can drink good beer, and you can work your way through a thick crowd occasionally bumping into a scantily clad young person without immediately being covered in stank. You can even eat Chipotle. Why not?
When I heard about this tour I assumed it was going to be set up as a sort of co-headlining affair. For whatever reason, I had thought both bands had achieved a fairly equivalent stature. Goes to show how accurate my “scene radar” is.
The New Pornographers were clearly just the opening band.
A.C. (Carl) Newman follows his fellow New Pornographer Dan Bejar with an excellent solo release that is sure to make many a critic’s year end top ten. Whereas Bejar put out the art album of the year with Destroyer (review), Newman has put out a power pop album that sounds much like Mass Romantic outtakes. Keep in mind; this isn’t a bad thing, as The Slow Wonder contains eleven songs that highlight how tremendous of a songwriter Newman is.
“Miracle Drug” (mp3) is so damn catchy that you fear Newman set you up for disappointment the rest of the way. However, the bouncing “Drink to Me, Babe, Then” (mp3) tops it with perfectly timed symbol crashes and hand claps. Each song stands out as a pop gem and deserves a paragraph of praise. “On the Table,” “Most of Us Prizefighters,” and “Secretarial” are reason enough to play The Slow Wonder over and over again.
Yet, Newman slows the tempo with faultless precision on “Come Crash” and “The Cloud Prayer.” Singing, “Once again, you’re a Godsend” on the former you can’t help but think this translates to the timing of the release of the album. Saving his best for the end Newman incorporates a cello of all instruments to turn “The Town Halo” into a song of the year candidate. And brings the listener to their knees with the tremendous closer “35 in the Shade.”
In what might become the Year of the Pornographer, The Slow Wonder is a half hour of concise and catchy power pop songs. You’ll find it hard to get through the entire album because of hitting repeat after each one.
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.