September 13, 2007

Record Review: New Pornographers

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Frankly, all I can say is the New Pornographers have mad skills. Challengers, their fourth full length album, which was released in August, exemplifies their ability to make classic power pop that possesses a firm grasp on the production of complex harmonies layered over powerful hooks.
Challengers represents a more mature side of The New Pornographers. It definitely has the powerful upbeat melodies characteristic of A.C. Newman’s style, but not to the same degree as previous NP albums, where his melodies dominate most of the album. The songs on Challengers have a lulling feeling, tugging away at your lyrical heartstrings, while still keeping your head and feet engaged with upbeat musical tempos.
The opening song, “My Right Versus Yours,” begins with slow guitar riffs alongside descending chords resounding from a lone keyboard. As the song progresses a French horn enters, until, by the time the hook appears for the second time, the basic units of the music ensemble are in play. The song is not quite as infectious as the first and title track of their previous album, Twin Cinema, but, “MRVY” illustrates NP’s growth into having a more mature and complex sound that takes into account, both musically and lyrically, the hopefulness that can only stem from misanthropic melancholy.
“MRVY” is followed by “All the Old Showstoppers” which starts off a little forlorn, but, by the onset of the chorus, develops into a more cheerful melody chiming behind Newman’s words, “Somebody beside you slipped your head inside the crown/ The princes of the paupers/ And all the old showstoppers.” More importantly, these two songs give way to one of the best (if not the best) song of the album: the title track, “Challengers.” It particularly showcases the vocal talents of Neko Case, who has made a name for herself in the realm of alternative country. When Neko sings to a newfound and unexpected love (“We are the challengers of the unknown!”), it makes you want to follow her without questions.
Many of the other songs on the album highlight NP’s ability to make ridiculously catchy songs, like “Myriad Harbour” and “All the Things that Go to Make Heaven and Earth.” This time around though, NP are utilizing “real” instruments more than synthesizers, adding a more serious tone to the album in comparison to others. “Unguided” and “Go Places” are tracks that also stick. “Unguided” is a zealously epic tribute to New York that utilizes a string section, while “Go Places” strikes the hopeless romantics in us all as Neko Case sings sweetly about how “a heart should always go one step too far,” still encouraging us to challenge the unknown.
Challengers brings out the best of the NP in the form of powerful pop as well as poetic imagery, conveying cynicism, hope and at times despondency. NP sure know how to combine a unique blend of voices and an eclectic array of musical instruments into the latest euphonious addiction.