Release Date: May 4, 2010
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Record label: Matador
Music Critic Score
How the Music Critic Score works
Buy Together from Amazon
The New Pornographers' brand of sophisticated indie pop has often been too shiny for my liking, but on their brilliant fifth album, they've not only bid adieu to the uncharacteristic mellowness found on 2007's Challengers, but have also dirtied up their guitars. The sprawling supergroup brings Sabbath power-chord heft to quasi-title-track Your Hands (Together), while fuzzy riffs propel opener Moves. [rssbreak] Additional might comes via horns by the Dap-Kings, a slippery guitar solo by Annie Clark (aka St.
Trying to pinpoint the genius of the New Pornographers is a bit of a fool’s errand. The problem is that they do so many things exceptionally well, from crafting big hooks to winding through impossible melodies to cloaking meaning in clever wordplay. Most bands would kill to excel in just one of these areas, but the New Pornographers consistently combine all of them with an almost irritating nonchalance.
Easy, breezy, beautiful The New Pornographers have been so reliable for so long that they’re easy to take for granted. Learning that the band’s fifth album, Together, is their most oddly cohesive and stickiest yet is great but hardly remarkable news—the same has been said for almost all of their previous releases. What’s surprising, though, is how loose and comfortable it all feels; the record is punchy, but it breathes easily with a kind of windows-open grace.
Usually, the whole trick behind pop music is to appear effortless, but the New Pornographers turn that equation on its head, making it a habit of showing their work in every tune. So dense their songs, so labyrinthine their lyrics, they tend to inspire admiration, not slack-jawed wonder, but it’s to the Canadian supergroup’s great credit that the music never feels like an intellectual exercise: the hooks are there, they’re just not immediate. Fortunately, Together -- the group’s fifth album -- does feel immediate, a muscular riposte to 2007’s inward-gazing Challengers; it’s a record that sounds sinewy even when slathered with strings.
As a project, the New Pornographers have more in common with a blockbuster film franchise than a typical rock band. All of their albums follow a similar crowd-pleasing blueprint, and the group's four primary vocalists consistently fall into familiar roles: A.C. Newman is the everyman protagonist, Neko Case is the sassy dame, Dan Bejar is the lovable rogue, and Kathryn Calder is the demure ingenue.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about The New Pornographers’ new album, Together, that hasn’t already been said. To recap: this is an ambitious album simply oozing with collaborators (The Dap Kings, Zach Condon of Beirut, Will Scheff of Okkervil River, Annie Clark of St. Vincent). Rest assured that the “too many cooks” cliché has been thrown around freely, and there hasn’t been consensus as of yet.
Say what you will about the New Pornographers, Carl Newman and company know a good album title when they see one. Together is exactly what this collection should be called, because here the band sounds more like a cohesive band than they ever have on record. To me, this has always seemed like Newman's show, and he brings in Neko Case and Dan Bejar for some nice variety, and killer songwriting chops.
As near as I can remember, the only time I was right about anything was on the 18th of June 2007. The place was London's Islington Academy, it was quite a nice day, and I was interviewing New Pornographers frontman Carl Newman. At some point I rather rudely blurted out a suggestion that people probably weren't going to like the band's fourth album - the at that point to be released Challengers - as much as its predecessors.
The notion of Together being a freewheeling soirée doesn’t hold water once these power-pop songs go through a couple spin cycles. The efforts of Annie Clark, Zach Condon, Will Sheff, and The Dap-Kings are negligible in keeping this fifth LP from Challengers-like indolence. Mid-tempo balladry and redundant choruses sap all the percussive vigor from this former song factory.
Canada’s penchant for popping out musical super groups may always be a mystery, but there’s no denying its cash-crop potential. The sheer amount of people on stage at your average Broken Social Scene show is spectacle-esque, and I’ve got to assume Traveling Wilburys’ fans were prone to wetting themselves on a regular basis. Whatever creates super groups — whether it be record execs, cult Kool-Aid, or just plain ol’ artist creativity — I do know that they get eaten up by the college radio community faster than vegan burritos at a dress-like-your-favorite-90210-character dance party.
On each successive album, the New Pornographers have become less off-the-cuff and more cerebral. In and of itself, that isn’t a bad thing, but music that ostensibly bears the tag “power-pop” doesn’t work when it’s cloistered and stuffy. On their fifth album, Together, the Pornos finally reach that tipping point between pop that is meticulous in its craft and pop that is overworked and leaden.
Honestly, why have The New Pornographers not made the jump to a major record label at this point? The music industry hierarchy and model of yesteryear may be continuing its downward spiral into irrelevance, but that hasn’t stopped other indie giants like Death Cab for Cutie and The Decemberists from signing contracts with the big leagues in recent years. Though their shimmering power-pop may be more instantly accessible than the headier preoccupations of the aforementioned acts, The New Pornographers unquestionably share their knack for sing-along choruses and quirky melodrama. Those same qualities even landed Death Cab and bands like Grizzly Bear and Band of Skulls a spot on last year’s Twilight soundtrack.
THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS Together (Arts and Crafts) Rating: One of the strongest qualities of the Vancouver-based New Pornographers is that they don’t let their lineup do all the work. The eight-member band, which includes Canadian singer-songwriter and leader A.C. Newman, Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and American singer-songwriter Neko Case, could easily rest on its supergroup status and leave their songs on the backburner, but they don’t.
In small measures the Canadian octet’s latest long-player is great fun. Andrew Mueller 2010 It seems self-evident that if you put a bunch of talented musicians together, they will come up with great music – just as it appears no less obvious that all you need to do to win football matches is put talented players on the park and let them get on with it. However, just as a team of overpaid athletes will occasionally get turned over by a lesser but better-drilled outfit, so the efforts of putative musical supergroups are often scuppered by ill discipline and a degree of vainglory.
Two Canadian supergroups, one release date, and no clear winner. Broken Social Scene's long-awaited Forgiveness Rock Record opens with "World Sick," a euphoric guitar rave-up that condenses the collective's sprawling urgency into seven minutes of communal ecstasy. That tightly wound energy carries the first half of the album with an immediacy even greater than 2003's seminal You Forgot It in People, balanced by the single "Forced to Love"; the thrilling, electronic "Chase Scene"; and "Texico Bitches," a snappy indictment of big oil.
is available now