Release Date: Aug 26, 2014
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
It dawns on me much too late that it might not be the best idea for me to be reviewing a third New Pornographers record for the same music mag. I procrastinate, the way I always do with my reviews, and by the time I finally sat down with Brill Bruisers it kind of sank in; this isn't 2004. It's 2014. This power-pop powerhouse remains one of my absolute favorite (super)groups.
Anyone who has been following the work of the New Pornographers since their 2000 debut LP Mass Romantic has to know what to expect from the Canadian supergroup by this point. Every one of their albums has been sequenced using the same precepts that Nick Hornby set up for mixtapes in the book High Fidelity: they start off with a corker of an opening track, rein it in on the next song and then move forward in incremental steps up or down in terms of energy to keep you (at least upon the first spin) guessing. What you listen closely for are the subtle shifts: the moments when Dan Bejar drops his toothsome power-pop gems into the mix, and how songwriter/leader AC Newman uses Neko Case’s pliable and powerful voice.
The New PornographersBrill Bruisers(Matador)4 stars More than four years have passed since the release of Together, the last album from the Canadian collective known as The New Pornographers. With other bands, that might be problematic, considering how rapidly the winds of change blow through the rock music landscape these days, transforming a moment’s hot sound into a passé joke in an instant. Yet TNP’s brand of complex catchiness is immune to the quirks of trendiness, as their latest missive, Brill Bruisers, splendidly proves.
AC Newman’s third solo album ‘Shut Down The Streets’ was a missed masterpiece of 2012, the Pornographer-in-chief’s melodic deftness stripped bare and intimately licked. Returning to his Canadian base alongside Neko Case and their fellow filth merchants for this long-awaited sixth TNP album, Newman’s brilliant alt-pop tunes about romantic drug deals, heroic lowlifes and being (hic) ‘Champions Of Red Wine’ are hoisted aloft by strident pop stomps and pumped full of sizzling synthetic wonder until they sound like MGMT tackling ELO’s ‘Xanadu’ (‘War On The East Coast’, ‘Backstairs’, ‘Dancehall Domine’). Tinged with Grandaddy and full of hooks that twinkle like the diodes on a robot from 1984, this is an obscenely enjoyable return.
Some bands aim for a grand, widescreen sound when they go into the studio, but the New Pornographers refuse to be satisfied with anything short of 3-D IMAX, with their songs accompanied by thundering drums, massive cascades of keyboards, towering vocal choruses, and chugging, percussive melodies that power it all. It would be easy for the New Pornographers to sound absurdly ostentatious if it weren't for the fact there's a fiercely beating heart in the midst of their music, and at their best, the indie supergroup seems to be having a grand time constructing their walls of sound. 2014's Brill Bruisers is a suitably grandiose follow-up to 2010's Together, and the fact it took seven different recording studios to assemble tells you something about the album's sonic ambition, but A.
For a songwriter who's perhaps best known for his rapturously infectious vocal melodies, the New Pornographers' Carl Newman—rock's greatest lisping Canadian redhead—has often made a habit of cluttering them up with the busiest conglomeration of noise he and his seven bandmates can muster. Strangely enough, it's this tendency that's always allowed the New Pornos to transcend the usual strictures of power pop—a genre in which many participants are often willing to rely on the major chord progressions Ray Davies had already worn out by 1966. Newman is a modern giant from a purely compositional standpoint: “Letter from an Occupant” and “The Bleeding Heart Show” rank among the greatest songs of this still young century.
On the New Pornographers' last couple of albums, the Vancouver pop collective dabbled in organic-sounding chamber pop lushness to mixed results; Brill Bruisers is a resounding return to form — and not just because it's their most upbeat album in nearly a decade. Certainly, the album has its ample share of band leader Carl Newman's signature power-pop anthems — cuts like "Brill Bruisers" and "Dancehall Domine" have hooks that would sound right at home on Electric Version or Twin Cinema — but the best moments come when the group venture into new, more synth-focused territory: the slinky groove of the Neko Case-fronted "Champions of Red Wine" is flecked with twinkling synth arpeggiations, and the Kathryn Calder-led "Another Drug Deal of the Heart" is a gorgeously simple three-chord ditty in the vein of the Magnetic Fields. The biggest departure is the collection's best song, as "Backstairs" sports haunting melodies and a vocoder refrain that grows increasingly triumphant in its final passage.
Are The New Pornographers history’s first reverse supergroup? Maybe that's the sort of soundbite that unravels if you think about it too much, but the Vancouver-centred collective have certainly had a pretty loopy career trajectory. When they first came together, for 2000’s peerless power pop masterpiece Mass Romantic, it’s probably fair to say that despite how radically different its three lead singers sounded from each other, the band was the biggest thing any of its members had going on, and this is something that probably remained true until at least the release of their other peerless power pop masterpiece, 2005’s Twin Cinema. Since then, both Neko Case and Dan ‘Destroyer’ Bejar have gone on to a level of success that’s dwarfed that of the band, and given that the New Pornos are broadly speaking the creation of Carl Newman, you wouldn’t be shocked if the group’s two most famous members quietly ducked out.
The summer right after college, I would walk across campus every afternoon to rehearse a play I was directing. My house was about two miles from Florida State University’s Fine Arts Annex, which Google Maps today tells me is roughly a 45-minute stroll. That sounds about right. I know this because every day for almost six weeks straight, I would listen to The New Pornographers’ Twin Cinema — a 48-minute record — on the way to and from the theater building.
Review Summary: Pity the fool who has to make the New Pornos greatest hits CD in ten years.Some records embed themselves in a very specific place or time. They are the equivalent of a neural land mine, pressure sensors activating upon a certain chord or turn of melody and sending a rush of memories floating up into wires that cross and curl with little rhyme or reason. The Killers’ Hot Fuss reminds me very distinctly of the winter before my freshman exams in high school, my body reclined and my feet on my desk.
The evolution of New Pornographers hasn’t been measured by changes in their core sound so much as in energy level, with a discography that can essentially be plotted alongside a DJ console’s BPM lever. And since their 2005 masterwork Twin Cinema—an album that perfectly balanced their formative power-pop freneticism with loftier, widescreened ambitions—that lever has been gradually sliding down, with Challengers from 2007 and Together from 2010 emphasizing more patiently paced set pieces that tiptoed the fine line between gracefully decompressing and killing the buzz altogether. But even if such gambles cost them a few ADD-addled admirers along the way, you get the sense the New Pornographers would soldier on at their own leisurely clip even if no one was listening.
It can't be easy for a band like The New Pornographers. Where prog-rock musicians need to create new vistas and compositions to describe them, and comedians need to be funny, when it comes to pop-rock bands there's always the thought that every great musical hook has already been bent and thrown into the sea. .
Head here to submit your own review of this album. When The New Pornographers came together they seemed like they entirely fulfilled the idea of what a super group should be: big names collaborating, making big and brilliant music that accentuated each of their talents and simultaneously showed them in new lights. They were more than the sum of their parts.
On the surface, Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers’ sixth album in the 14 years since their first, comes off like a retconning, like the picking up of a dropped stitch from some rows back. Time, much like critical appraisals of Matthew McConaughey’s appeal, is a flat circle. And what is a flat circle, but both a perpetual return to form and a symbolic lack of depth? Is this Brill Bruisers? In the album’s press release, de facto frontman Carl Newman claims that Brill Bruisers “is stylistically as close as we can get to what I’ve always imagined us being,” which I choose to interpret as a droll joke, considering that the band has, to a considerable measure of success, put out slight variations of the same record every few years.
Canadian indie-rock collective The New Pornographers recently had one of their songs – Letter From An Occupant – voted at 47 in a list of CBC’s best Canadian songs of all time (topped by Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now), and had Sara Quinn of Tegan And Sara fame declare that the pop anthem changed her life. With Brill Bruisers being the band’s sixth studio album 14 years later and some 17 years since their formation, it’s unlikely that such a revelatory life changing song will be found in this collection, but what you do get is a damn good set of tracks ready to entertain, being altogether “shinier and faster” according to main singer/songwriter AC Newman. The frontman has also declared the album as “a celebration record…where nothing in my life is dragging me down”.
The title track of the New Pornographers' latest is a sugar-water tidal wave of "oohoohs," "ba-ba-ba-boos," synth twinkles and dub shimmers – a fitting opener for an LP whose name suggests pop artisans on steroids. Leader A.C. Newman claims this exuberant, synthpop-infused set is "a celebration record." But soon, cohort Dan Bejar is dreaming of a drowning woman in his world-weary Anglophile drawl on the Morrissey-esque apocalypse paean "War on the East Coast." And so goes another all-star indie-rock Pornos cage match, with Neko Case, per usual, nearly stealing the show ("Marching Orders").
It's impossible to listen to the New Pornographers' first record in four years without considering the excellent solo efforts that have come out of the supergroup in the time since. Grammy-nominated Neko Case, Dan Bejar (as Destroyer) and frontman AC Newman all released standout albums in the past three years. Combine that with the fact that most indie rock savants have already declared their favourite New Pornos album (for this reviewer, 2005's Twin Cinema) and listening to their latest suddenly becomes less about the record and more about the context.
The New Pornographers have long been pop purists. Despite Neko Case’s dusty solo work or Dan Bejar’s shape-shifting records as Destroyer, when they hook up with A.C. Newman and company to make a New Pornographers record, it is all about big, brash hooks. But, despite the band’s signature, maximalist sound, they have stretched the parameters of their pure pop world over the years.
The New Pornographers Brill Bruisers (Matador) Experiencing the death of his mother and then the birth of his first son, frontman Carl Newman welcomed a return to this Canadian collective's uptempo energy on Brill Bruisers, the New Pornographers' sixth LP. The opening title track instantly redirects the subtle ebb of immediate predecessors Challengers (2007) and Together (2010), its brawny, sweeping totality a musical submersion with little respite. "Hi-Rise" totes a futuristic quality, Newman divulging the band's incorporation of iPad apps to enhance recording.
The New Pornographers’ first album in four years bursts open with a vocal hook of overlapping oohs, ahs, and ohs, and second song “Champions of Red Wine” offers a soft electric chug, pillowy acoustic guitars, and fluttery keyboards. Those exact elements, in varying combinations (and often all together), recur in song after song throughout “Brill Bruisers,” but the band wields them so strongly that it becomes unifying, not repetitious. It helps that, even with the title track’s majestic riot of descending chords and the muted, headlong slash of “War on the East Coast,” the band has never sounded more relaxed, with a lived-in confidence.
Brill Bruisers is the New Pornographers’ sixth LP. When a band gets that deep into a career and still puts out albums this good, it becomes difficult not to paint each new album as something extreme: a radical departure, a reinvention of the wheel, their best effort since their debut, and so forth. Brill Bruisers doesn’t call for that sort of hyperbole; it is not the sound of a band reinventing itself.
Happy pop music isn’t exactly in short supply these days. If anything we’re in the thick of a renaissance for the relentlessly danceable productions that added a dose of sunshine to even the most lyrically dour 80s pop songs. What is noticeably absent from the landscape, however, is a dearth of ….
“The Bleeding Heart Show” was the best and worst thing that could’ve happened to The New Pornographers in 2005. Best because it formed the centerpiece of the band’s best album, Twin Cinema, setting the stage for the rich textures and contemplative themes of its immediate follow-ups: 2007’s Challengers and 2010’s Together. Worst because Challengers and Together initially played like the hangover following the sugar rush of The New Pornographers’ earliest work, the antidote to which was first (and most effectively) explored by “The Bleeding Heart Show.
"Brill Bruisers" evokes a gang you wouldn't want to mess with, and the New Pornographers are surely that. They've got an overabundance of idiosyncratic talents packed into one band, including founder A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar. Each has done estimable work individually, and Case in particular is a star in her own right.
For me, at least, The New Pornographers continue to stand out as one of the oddities of indie rock’s recent history; like their compatriots Broken Social Scene, the Canadian group is comprised of members who remain engaged in other projects at the same time, with a core songwriting duo putting songs aside for the Pornographers and only deciding later who should play what on each one. It’s almost like an inversion of the classic concept of the supergroup, but it’s certainly proved an effective one thus far; the band’s five full-lengths to date have been consistent in their excellence, and the relative sparsity of their releases - this album is their first in four years - making each new record feel like a real treat. Brill Bruisers has been described as celebratory by frontman Carl Newman; it’s not that their last album, Together, was especially downbeat, but it was certainly reserved in places, and that’s something that’s been eschewed this time around; this is a consistently boisterous record.