All 8 New Pornographers Albums, Ranked

Music Lists The New Pornographers
Share Tweet Submit Pin
All 8 New Pornographers Albums, Ranked

Canadian power-pop supergroup The New Pornographers are on the road as we speak, celebrating anniversaries of two of their classic albums—the 21st of their bracing 2000 debut Mass Romantic and the 16th of their grown-up third album, 2005’s Twin Cinema—by playing them in full.

Initially based in Vancouver, the band burst onto the scene at the turn of the 21st century and gained significant attention for two main reasons. Their incredibly catchy and complex pop-rock was both deftly composed and an absolute delight on the ears, and their lineup included three accomplished singer/songwriters with their own successful careers: A.C. Newman, formerly of the band Zumpano, alt-country shapeshifter Neko Case and the man behind Destroyer, Dan Bejar.

Since then, the band’s lineup has fluctuated—keyboardist/vocalist Kathryn Calder joined when Case was too busy to tour, and Bejar has stepped away for the past few years—but all three original frontpeople are out with the band now, poppin’ and rockin’ like it’s the early 2000s all over again.

While they’re looking back at their old material, Paste is doing the same. Below is a ranking of all eight New Pornographers albums, which is like choosing favorites between your kids.

8. Together (2010)

Together boasts two excellent New Pornographers singles: the strummy “Crash Years,” sung by Case, and “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” with its prominent handclaps and perfect chorus. But on his songs, Bejar is starting to sound a bit disinterested, and several tracks here have a subdued vibe, especially when compared to the band’s earlier albums. There is a reason for this: Newman’s mother passed away the same year it was released, and he had recently experienced other losses, as well. It is interesting to hear another side of The New Pornographers—one weighed down by too much cello, for one thing—and this band at their worst is better than most bands at their best. But Together doesn’t stack up to the rest of the catalog.

7. Whiteout Conditions (2017)

For their seventh album Whiteout Conditions, The New Pornographers were going for a made-up style Newman called “bubblegum krautrock”—reliably hooky and relentlessly pushing forward. You can hear both throughout the album, which echoes Electric Version in its inexhaustible energy, but adds in a healthy dose of anxiety about the state of the world circa 2016 (which seemed as bad as it could get at the time). Of note: Whiteout Conditions is the first New Pornographers album made amicably without the involvement of Bejar, who was busy with Destroyer, according to Newman. Some longtime fans were hung up on this change, but in a way, Bejar’s absence sort of codified something that had been clear for many years: that The New Pornographers are A.C. Newman’s band, and he’s fortunate to have a handful of top-shelf songwriters along to lean on if needed. As a result, Whiteout Conditions is consistent and cohesive in a way that Together and even albums higher on this list are not.

6. In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (2019)

Newman has tweeted about recording new material—fingers crossed for a 2022 release—but for now, Morse Code is the most recent missive from The New Pornographers, one that splits the difference between the angst and unhurried atmosphere of the band’s middle period (Challengers, Together) and the hyperactive baroque pop for which they’re best known. The album spills over with earworm moments—the sinuous melody of “The Surprise Knock,” the call-and-response of “Need Some Giants,” the fidgety strings of “Dreamlike and On the Rush”—even as Newman wrestles with existential crises on several fronts. Bejar is again nowhere to be found, and it’s not accurate to say The New Pornographers are better off without him. What is accurate is to say The New Pornographers have been consistently great or (more often) better for nearly two decades, no matter who’s involved.

5. Challengers (2007)

So far, there have been three distinct eras of The New Pornographers’ recorded music. There are the fast and furious first two albums, and the most recent three, which get back to pop-rockin’. And then there’s the middle three, where slower tempos, love and melancholy play a more prominent role. Challengers was released around the same time Newman married his wife, and its Case-sung title track—a sweetly hopeful ballad—is about her. The rest of the album is peppered with beautiful, mellow songs like “Unguided” and “Adventures in Solitude” that are about feeling sad or adrift, or both. Challengers also contains one of Bejar’s best New Pornographers tunes—the self-referential New York City song “Myriad Harbour”—and its fair share of Newman gems (“All the Old Showstoppers,” “Mutiny, I Promise You”), plus a short song called “Failsafe” that spins its wheels, but never goes anywhere.

4. Brill Bruisers (2014)

After the relative downer of Together, The New Pornographers took more than four years to release another album, and the stage was set for a long, slow decline into midtempo mediocrity. Instead, the band came back with their tightest, most focused and best album in nearly a decade. Its name a reference to the famous Brill Building pop songwriting shop of the 1960s, Brill Bruisers finds the band reinvigorated as it glides across a neon landscape of arpeggiated synthesizers, crunchy guitars, candy-colored melodies, and a seemingly endless supply of oohs and aahs. They don’t do it quite as consistently as they once did, but on songs like “Fantasy Fools,” “Dancehall Domine” and “You Tell Me Where,” Brill Bruisers proved the band was still capable of reaching rarified heights.

3. Mass Romantic (2000)

Mass Romantic introduced The New Pornographers to the world with a supergroup narrative and a sugar rush of songs built to fill every nook and cranny of your headphones, bounce into your brain and then never leave. Newman knew, of course, what kind of weapon he had in Case’s voice, so he put the title track—one of her lead vocals here—first on the album, and she came out lungs a-blazin’. Twenty-one years later, “Mass Romantic” still is one of the quintessential New Pornographers songs. From there, the band’s debut is a vibrant thicket of chunky guitars, cymbal crashes, weird synth sounds, stomping rhythms, gang vocals, imperfections and controlled chaos. Bejar contributes the sassy “Jackie,” Case crushes another instant classic (“Letter From an Occupant”) and the band push away from shore with one of the best debut albums ever.

2. Twin Cinema (2005)

After two full albums of pedal-to-the-metal pop-rock, Twin Cinema feels like an exhale. It’s still packed with gleaming Newman nuggets, most notably “Use It,” “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Star Bodies” and the album’s killer closer, “Stacked Crooked.” And Bejar acquits himself well with two true rockers (“Jackie, Dressed in Cobras” and “Broken Beads”). But across Twin Cinema, you can hear Newman’s songwriting maturing and, thus, the expansion of the band’s sonic universe. “The Bones of an Idol” and “These Are the Fables” slow down, stretch out and give Case a chance to showcase her world-class voice without belting, while the manipulated vocals in the chorus of “Falling Through Your Clothes” make for a dizzying listen. Twin Cinema’s peak is “The Bleeding Heart Show,” with its soaring, ad-ready coda, and its low point is “Three or Four,” which plods in comparison to the rest of the album. To be clear, 99% of songwriters would kill to create an album with a weak link like “Three or Four.” For The New Pornographers, it just means Twin Cinema comes in a notch below the top spot on this list.

1. Electric Version (2003)

Any of the first three New Pornographers albums would be reasonable choices for their very best. Electric Version takes the top spot for three main reasons: One, because of very slight missteps on Mass Romantic and Twin Cinema; two, because it has the best set of Dan Bejar songs of any of the band’s albums; and three, because it is a thrill ride of pure, perfect pop-rock from the first minute to the last. Highlights include the band’s best Case-led song not on Mass Romantic (“All For Swinging You Around”) and two massive Case choruses (“The Laws Have Changed” and “Miss Teen Wordpower”), Bejar’s particularly spirited vocal performance and the layered “no, no, no, no” coda of his tune “Testament to Youth in Verse,&#8221 the propulsive pace of “It’s Only Divine Right” and the roller-coaster melody of “The End of Medicine.” And then there’s the album’s goosebump-inducing second track, “From Blown Speakers,” which seems to sum up the entirety of The New Pornographers’ existence in one typically off-kilter Newman line: “It came out magical,” everyone sings at once, “out from blown speakers.” No rock band has made more studio magic this century than the New Pornographers and company, and Electric Version is the greatest trick in their repertoire.

Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.

Watch a 2010 New Pornographers performance from the Paste archives below.