The Reel Whirl: More titillating pop bliss from Canadian dream collective
No matter how immune you consider yourself to snappy pop hooks, grandiose supergroup pileups, or giddy, sing-along choruses, denying the smarts of The New Pornographers is almost impossible.
As August stretches on—all sticky foreheads and watermelon rinds, late-night bicycle rides and bonfires—The New Pornographers’ particular brand of power pop seems more and more custom-made for sweaty, late-summer friskiness, the only logical soundtrack to unadulterated heat and pure mischief. But that lightness is deceiving: Twin Cinema
, the band’s third full-length, is exhilarating and complex enough to keep you warm year-round.
Canada boasts a well-established roster of loose, independent collectives (see Broken Social Scene, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and plenty of others), and the nine-strong, Vancouver-based New Pornographers, comprised of a generous handful of Canada’s musical elite, have only benefited from their collaborative credo. But in the years since their 2000 debut, the much-lauded Mass Romantic, The New Pornographers have moved farther and farther from their communal roots, flowering into a fully operable, self-contained band.
Still, as expected, the Pornographer family tree is a brambly one: ostensibly led by Carl Newman (who also records as solo artist A.C. Newman, and with the bands Zumpano and Superconductor), alt.country heroine Neko Case (who records and tours with a backing band, as Neko Case and her Boyfriends) and Dan Bejar (also of Destroyer), the group features a revolving cast of backers, most of whom are equally tangled in their own projects. The Pornographers’ current, vaguely exhausting lineup includes drummer Kurt Dahle, guitarist Todd Fancey, bassist John Collins, keyboardist Blaine Thurier, vocalist Nora O’Connor and pianist/vocalist Kathryn Calder, who is also Newman’s long-lost teenage niece. Given how many bodies are crammed into the studio, and all the other sonic endeavors inadvertently involved, The New Pornographers’ taut, impeccably arranged indie pop only becomes more impressive. Twin Cinema is impeccably produced, too, without a single stray note or over-noodled solo, the contributors perfectly dedicated to their respective roles.
Bright, fuzzy and stupidly addictive, Twin Cinema builds on the sharp melodies of 2003’s Electric Version, but amps up the diversity and dynamism of the band’s base sound, forsaking some of the windmilling, leg-?ailing glee of its predecessors and further tightening each individual component. As expected, Twin Cinema offers plenty of hearty pop, but also boasts some significantly darker moments: The magnificent, piano-driven “Use It” details the stickiness of late-night parking lots (including the genius quip “Two sips from the cup of human kindness / And I’m shitfaced!”), while “These Are The Fables”—forefronting acoustic guitar and Case’s honest coo—picks gently at the secret lives of cities.
Bejar, a non-touring member of the band, who has previously provided only vocals to his original tracks, nestles in deeper here, contributing guitar, synths and Melodion as well as voice. “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” the Bejar-penned lyrical sequel to Mass Romantic’s “Jackie,” is a punchy meditation on muses and missed chances (“Jackie’s dressed in cobras / Giving me ideas / What I really need now is ideas”), while “Streets of Fire” layers thick, harmonized vocals over acoustic strums and barely there fuzz, crouching quietly until the drums bubble up and the song tumbles into a full-blown folk-rock singalong.
Bejar and Newman are responsible for nearly all the lyrical content of Twin Cinema, and their barbs are consistently pithy, often self-meditative reflections: the eerie, piano-heavy “The Bones of An Idol” wonders, “As we sift through the bones of an idol / We dig for the bones of an idol when the will is gone / ’Cause something keeps turning us on,” taking shots at the weird intricacy of creative expression. Same goes for the excellent “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” which features a begging refrain of “Listening too long / To our song / Sing me Spanish techno.”
Like all New Pornographers releases, Twin Cinema is at times overwhelmingly rich; Bejar and Newman employ baritone guitars and plenty of squealing e-bow, milking their six-strings for cello-like yawns and deep howls, darting between thumping bass lines and squeaky synths. Five vocals shoot back and forth, anchored mostly by Case and Newman, whose lush, spot-on pipes never miss; meanwhile, flawless boy-girl harmonies (typically two on three) provide scratchy tension.
Unsurprisingly, Newman sneaks in loads of split-second changes and structural twitches, but Twin Cinema is never convoluted or exhausting—in both theory and practice, the Pornographers are maximalists, pushing the boundaries of pop exuberance to new levels of dizziness. But the band consistently manages to indulge excess without becoming cartoonish—or, more importantly, unlistenable. Alternately, Twin Cinema is compulsively playable, a cohesive collection of razor-sharp pop bliss.
To read Paste's short feature on The New Pornographers, click here.