The New Pornographers

What's up with all the anal? Don't people realize that if you like anal, it means you're gay? Well, it does. And you are.
*special introductory paragraph!
*Mass Romantic
*Electric Version
*Twin Cinema
*Live!
*Challengers
*Together

I often find myself asking you, "What happened to all the great bubblegum stars of yesteryear?" What happened to Gary Glitter?

Ah yes, he got arrested for possession of child pornography. But what about all the other great bubblegum stars of yester, jerry? What happened to the Bay City Rollers?

Ah yes, that one guy got arrested for possession of child pornography.

Maybe the problem isn't today's MUSIC at all, but today's pornography. WE NEED NEW PORNOGRAPHERS!

See, it was all a clever set-up to display my brilliant literary genius, the likes of which you're all jealous and stupid asshole. But there's more to my review than just a clever set-up. For example, there's the part where I talk about the music of Vancouver's The New Pornographers (supposedly they're an indie rock "supergroup" but the day I hear of bands called Destroyer, Zumpano, Limblifter and Thee Evaporaters is the day I remove my finger from this dike and drown all of San Francisco in her vaginal fluids). They play BUBBLEGUM MUSIC! With hints of really early "Little Willie"-style glamp! Who doesn't like Glamp Music? Think Ohio Express! Think Assocation! Think 1910 Fruitgum Company! Just don't think me late for dinner!!!

Reader Comments

RustyHandle@aol.com
Well you better get your finger out of that dike, because Destroyer and Thee Evaporators are two fine indie rock bands. Destroyer have been one of my favorites for a year or so... and they sound very cluttered but beautifully poppy and uplifting. The sound is rather loose but not in a sloppy way, just in a very relaxed manner with well structured songs and plenty of Bah Bah's to go around. Thee Evaporators are more of a funny band, the music is still very good mind you, but the songs are, well, I think you'll like them (sample titles: Don't Hump The Dog, I Got a Rash, Telephone In Shoe). Not just novelty funny or "oh that's cute funny" laugh out loud funny. If you want I could burn you a copy of the latest Destroyer album and mail it.

* Mass Romantic - Mint 2000. *
Rating = 10

A fizzantasic debut - all the songs are upbeat and sugary, but with really thick distorted guitars and fun bubbly Cars-style synths AND I DON'T GODDAMN MEAN THE GODDAMN GARY NUMAN SONG - Sometimes when I'm in the local Pizzeria Uno enjoying their special Chicago-style pan pizza, I hear a Turtles song or a Dave Clark Five on the stereo and I think to myself, "What happened to music like this? Uptempo. Melodic. Sugar sweet - and not BORING!" The New Pornographers have reclaimed that music and brought it back to the nineties with a venGEance! The vocal lines have NOTES! Melodic LINES! Guys and girls harmonizing together! Yet there are still distorted guitars rockin' out! This is a wonderful development, mostly because they're honestly truly GOOD songwriters - these are not the shit-filled E-A-D play-by-numbers disappointments you're used to hearing from bland power-pop-punk bands. These people put CRAFT into their work, and the result is nothing short of 41 minutes! I'd call it the greatest debut album of all time if the last two songs didn't suck so bad. Final track = David Bowie-ish = no thanks! He sucks! And you know the worst thing about him? He sucks!

Wow! Check out the tits on THIS broad!!! --> :7D 8

He-Sucks! Master of the Universe! (draw little muscley guy here)

Reader Comments

jfrankparnell@hotmail.com
I think as a race-hating Canadian, it is my duty to hate all the fucking crap that Canadian music fans are supposed to like. Like this. It's overrated garbage. I guess if you like non-threatening "indie-rock" (note: the term "indie-rock" makes sure that all bands categorized under said term ARE ALWAYS NON-THREATENING) then you will like this, non, threatening, independent, rock. This reminds me why I hate the formulaic afterbirth that is "indie-rock" in the first place, it just screams, "LOOK WE CAN WRITE POP SONGS THAT THEY USED TO PLAY ON OUR PARENT'S RADIOS COUPLED WITH A INDEPENDENT ROCK SENSIBILITY!!! LOVE OUR PUSSYJUICE CRITICS!! LOVE!!" Ahhh... you know man, sometimes I'm really fucking funny. Oooh boy.

Note: This turned into a loathe-filled response to "indie-rock" rather than the originally inteded one on bad Canadian music. Oh well, that still doesn't make the Tragically Hip any less faggoty.

rbunnell@uclink.berkeley.edu
In response to the previous comment:

Eh? I'm as much of a derider of the whole "Wow, look at us, we're playing boring classic rock songs with shitty production!" indie-rock aesthetic as the next guy whose friends listen to the White Stripes way too much, but the New Pornos are choice. The songs are so meaty and appealing... actively *hating* them just strikes me as an ultimately joyless venture. To each his own, but if you're basing this on one listen I'd strongly recommend giving them another shot.

jfrankparnell@hotmail.com
I wouldn't say actively hating the New Pornographers, since I don't give the matter much thought (that is, aside from spending countless hours out at night thinking about them and writing disdain-filled reviews of them on Mark Prindle's Record Review Site)... Seriously though, it's just another pathetic and overused variation of the pop song, which should have been taking out back and shot a long time ago. My opinion is based on a few spins of the CD (which I think I would be a tad less scornful if the production wasn't so fucking bouncy and sweet), a live show, and having to read every rock critic wet himself in seemingly every music rag I pick up, over something that quite frankly, isn't that good. At least a group like Yo La Tengo fucks up the formula which can (usually) make for an interesting and challenging listen. This just says to me, "WE HAVE HOOKS AND WE ARE CUTE!!!" Blah blah blah... Except for a different rock aesthetic, I see no difference between this and the White Stripes.

rbunnell@uclink.berkeley.edu
I guess it just boils down to a matter of personal taste (like pretty much any musical disagreement, admittedly), because in general I have the same bias as you against bands who do nothing but recycle '60s pop melodies in a shiny, overproduced context without any of the personality or soul (a lot of Apples In Stereo songs bug me for that very reason). Bands like the White Stripes just strike me as irritatingly insubstantial, embodied in the fact that their biggest American hit ("Fell In Love With A Girl") is just your basic assembly-line two-minute garage rocker topped off with the same "whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo"s from the Pretenders' "Middle Of The Road," gimmicky Lego video nonwithstanding.

So what surprised me about the NP's when one of my friends loaned me the album last year is that it was basically the same sort of deal, only the songs actually sounded like substantial compositions that the band had put a decent amount of time and craft into. Plus, even though they basically take the energetic power-pop aesthetic that so many bands have run into the ground ever since Paul Westerberg forced everyone to rediscover Big Star, I'm willing to forgive them because the songs are some of the catchiest I've heard from any band in the last two decades.

I'm not trying to change your opinion or anything - I moved past that phase a long time ago when I ended up getting into too many pointlessly heated e-mail arguments through this site that made me seem like a prick and didn't wind up benefitting anyone. I'm just trying to justify why *I* love them so much - I'm always skeptical of the "hip new bands" that Pitchforkmedia and NME try to ram down my throat every three months or so, but an album hasn't made me feel as good as this one has for a long time.

jfrankparnell@hotmail.com
Yeah, I agree with you, music - like all forms of media/entertainment are all just a matter of personal taste. But as far as crap like the White Stripes, Strokes, Radiohead, or whatever the cool overground band is at any given time - I really don't care, in fact I don't even really have an opinion on any them. I don't listen to the radio. I don't watch any sort of music television. So that whole world doesn't really have any effect on me. So of course something like the White Stripes is insubstantial, because all the radio will play are bands that are insubstantial.

But I do have a problem with a "indie" band playing radio-friendly bouncy tunes. I mean, what's the point? It's been done and done and done. If your goal is to write pop tunes that will get you on large radio stations, play big venues, and sell lots of records, why not openly strive for and achieve your goal? I'm sick of bands putting-on a Pavementesque-shtick to pop songs for instant indie credibility and getting praised for it until everyones teeth begin to bleed? And maybe thats my main problem, the fact that the underground (fuck I hate that word) music world embraces things that should have big cross-hair targets on them for doing the same-things over and over, which is what the underground is supposed to hate and react too... If this reads like it was cut-and-pasted from different thoughts, I apologize but hopefully I said something that makes sense

Jmerenivitchsr@aol.com
Hey Jfrankparnell, I'm really curious as to what music you really enjoy. You consider the White Stripes as insubstantial, but what really is substantial? Is it long, virtuosic mega epics of drony-ness? Is it lyrics-based? or maybe just electronica. I mean at heart it is based purely on personal bias and no terms like "substantial" can really describe things much better (and truer) than "I like it", but what do you like?

hamr0040@mrs.umn.edu (Chris T Hamrin)
I really like this CD. Great stuff. Super catchy (as opposed to super mopey) indie pop. Its like delicious and good for you. It does sound ALOT like the dB's. You know, the dB's? Its like them but with a girl singing too. And a hot girl at that. dBs should get reviewed on here. Buy Stands for Decibels/Repercussions.

Vlvetmorning98@aol.com
I purchased this album not long after seeing the video for "Letter to an Occupant" on MuchMusic, and I was not disappointed. Unlike many of today's overrated flavor-of-the-week bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol, the NP know how to infuse their songs with melody. My only qualm with this album is that Neko Case doesn't sing lead on enough tunes. A 9.

cgverity@juno.com
This might be one of the greatest albums ever. Yeah I know the last song isn't the best but it grows on you. The album has flaws but it still packs a very melodic punch as any in the past who knows how many years. Carl Newman is somehow ignored as a pure pop craftsman. He might even be a genius. Zumpano was very cool. Neko Case might look a bit rough, but shes ends up being very hot in the end. Dan Bejar is very up and down but his stuff here is quite cool. Slow Descent into Alcoholism is key, and Body Says No is near perfect. Took me a while to like Letter to an Occupant but now it is great. What was i missing before. Love this album. anyone I played this for has loved it. Why aren't these guy huge? No sure. This album is a 10.

jersyboy5@hotmail.com
Newman is ok, but I prefer Bejar's songs. Especially "Jacki" "execution day" and and that other one, it goes something like "I can never place the name with the face". Newman writes great hooks, but I find that The Shins do Newman better than Newman does Newman and with way more feeling. I actually talked to the Pornographer's bass player, John, after their show in San francisco last year. The nicest guy in the whole world. really.

a.v.dean@gmail.com (A.V. Dean)
So far I've only heard a few tracks from this album (I have it, but haven't got around to properly listening to it. Long, uninteresting story), but they're all good - great. The title-track and 'Slow Descent Into Alcoholism' are worth the asking price alone, the first one a kind of bubblegum pre-punk electric organ-powered sing-along, like Debbie Harry fronting Dr. Feelgood or something. All kinds of catchy.

'Slow Descent' is simply the most gorgeous organ-powered (again) glam-ish stomp. As simple a trick as it is, I love how the song starts off with that simple stacatto drum/guitar/keyboard riff before the bass joins in to really propel it along -- EVEN THOUGH it's just playing the same notes. Such a simple song, almost despicably so (it's the kind of thing one can imagine writing off it were the property of another, lesser group), but just so JAUNTY. I often imagine my own videos for songs I love, and the video for this would involve lots of ice-cream, walking along beach-front piers, rollercoasters, and dressing in English-style pin-stripes, with a cane and a jaunty hat.

That's good, incidentally. I've not heard the rest yet, but I've heard snippets that suggest they're not crap, and frankly, even if they were the above two songs would be enough to get this at least a 4, maybe a 5 from me.

raceofdoom@gmail.com
Hey Mark. I have a dirty pornographic confession to MAKE.

AND THAT IS THAT I HATE THIS BAND!!!

Lolz. Seriously though, I mean, like, shit man. They fucking blow.

First off -- ooo, power pop. And I like me some power pop in the mornin'. Ever hear of the dB's? Now, that's some good shite. But this -- THIS -- it's pleasant and everything, but woah nelly can it ever be horribly boring!!!

I really like "To Wild Homes," and maybe a few other songs, but that girl's voice annoys me and everything becomes a big mish mash of mediocre indie crap.

I really want an iced coffee right now, but I already went to the Stone Oven (it's the coffee place in this building) this morning and the woman there looked at my PSP (Playstation Portable) and almost broke the screen with her ugly eyes.

This album sucks!

ddickson@rice.edu
Pizzeria Uno sucks. I got fired from there, so they suck. SO bad. So, so bad suck.

This record don't, but a TEN??? A TON??? A TIN>>,? aCTUALLY, i READ A FEW OF YOUR EARLY bEALTES REVIEws fuck I left the caps on, and I guess if you hold up their early stuff as equal to their later stuff, you'll like this music. It's radio-ready, but totally out of line with radio trends, if you drift my get. The vocal lines have NOTES! Melodic LINES! Guys and girls harmonizing together! Yet there are still distorted guitars rockin' out! All true. And a good thing, too, because they rock pretty uniquely.

But did they have to have the same goddamn arrangement, tempo, and vibe on EVery SINGle SONG?? It's just an indie party album! But without the chillout tracks! Dude, you've GOT to have chillout tracks, a la third side of Prince's 1999. Otherwise, it's JUST a fun rollicking time that leaves your brain the instant it's over. I never thought I'd say this, but it's albums like these that make me realize the purpose of songs like "Love Bites" on Hysteria. As sappy and fake as they may be in absolute terms, at least they let you RESET.

I like the guitar fuzz-plus-synth mix, though, as absolutely unvarying as it is, so I'll give this an 8. And I'l check out the music of Neko Case, that fine foxy hot alt-country artist, her.

the_words@hotmail.com
If anything bothers me about this one, it's the fact that it's the most indie of their three albums. This means at certain points songs are half ruined by bullshit "creative" efforts. For instance, the title track is really good. I heard stuff about the NPs but never really gave a damn until I heard that song and was completely blown away. BUT that whole "this boy blah blah electric" part, which is pretty pointless, would never have appeared if this was a straightforward rock record. It was buzzing and rolling, why ruin it? Anyway, I guess maybe for that specific reason my favourite song is really "Slow Decent".

jj_sunshine88@hotmail.com
This album is ABSOLUTELY fantastic. they are quickly climbing up into the top of my favortie bands because they are insanely awesome. ya, there is some superfluous iff kinda stuff every now and then, but it kicked my ass so hard i limped for a week. the best part? they just keep shoving out great albums. ive always firmly maintained that if you dont like power pop, you probably dont have a soul. you know whats even better than the best part? theyre een better live. when i saw they were doing a show in seattle with belle and sebastian i nearly pissed myself. all-around great band who makes great albums.

MatthewByrd@hotmail.com
This is an absolutely kick-ass album, but its kind of like all Flaming Lips -- it gets boring as hell after a while.

dullygray@letterboxes.org
What is particularly great about this debut (and the band on the whole) is not even the endless onslaught of classic pop melodies, but the imagination that it all involves. There are so many adventurous, intricate things going on behind, or indeed on top of, the surface of these songs that I begin to question other people’s tastes. Really, if it were only for the tunes, the boredom would finally and inevitably set in. But no, not this time: Newman (and others?) have not only songwriting chops, but also enough creativity to secure this at least a dozen exciting listens. And I disagree with Mark about that closing track. It’s somewhat Bowie-esque alright, but Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You” is even more in-your-face Bowie-esque and it’s still one of the most fantastic pop singles ever released. “Breaking The Law” sounds rather disjointed but, I don’t know, it sounds intriguing. The better part of TV On The Radio’s career sounds like that.

As for those comments about dB’s, well, their Stands For Decibels is tuneful, funny, catchy stream of consciousness, but that band’s songs are merely very good, great, amazing, you name it. While the NP’s songs are CLASSIC. I don’t know whether that works as an argument, but it should.

Anyway, in terms of red dots Mass Romantic gets an in-your-face, bombastic and overbearing 9.

Add your thoughts?

Electric Version - Matador 2003.
Rating = 8

Canadanada's Prime Ministers of Porp are back! And this time, they've brought their Move and Flying Nun singles! (The Move were a '60s band led by Roy Wood of Wizzard and Flying Nun is a New Zealand pop/rock record label). You see, The Move were a '60s band led by Ron Wood of Rod Stewart and Flying Nun is a TV show on right before Dobie Gillis. (Lies!) (Li-i-i-i-es!) (Knickerbockers) The Who had a hit in the '60s with "La-La-La-Lies" by Pete Townshend, who spends 14 hours a day on pre-teen pornography sites because he thinks he might have been abused as a child and figures what better way to find out. But hey! Enough of my free association!

Pardon me sir, but won't you please join my free Association?

Carl Newman, Kurt "Black" Dahle(a), Blaine "James" Thur(b)ier, Neko Case (PLAYBOY MAGAZINE NUDITY), Dan "Pees In A" Bejar, John "Tom" Collins and Todd Fancey "Pants" return with another wonderful sunny day collection of bubblegum organ vibes and vocal melodies written in Heaven with God's Fruit-Flavoured Ink. When Neko and Carl sing together, their voices merging in an Archies-like symphony of adorable cartoon teenager sweetness, I defy ANYBODY to tell me that the "truth" of Velvet Underground-style misery is any more important or realistic than beautiful positive tones about how "there's you and there's your money." Sure, life is full of depression but it's full of tasty flavors, perky girls and happy feelings too. Anyone who would choose one over the other - EITHER WAY - is only allowing themselves to enjoy half the story. As for me, I fuckin hate the Velvet Underground, but I need the pounding smash of today's hottest metalcore acts.

But back onto the subject -- the guitars are gruffly, oddly distorted glammy "Frumphs," the organs and pianos sound total '66y and the vocals are just lovely to pieces! There are a few moments of generititty college indie rock, but maybe I'm just being overvigilant in my effort to prove wrong the naysayers who would have you believe that the 'Ers aren't doing anything special. They ARE! The title track is GENIUS bubblegum with all kinds of excellent notes! "From Blown Speaker" may appear at first a bit too much like those crap bands college people listen to, but check out the drama in those chord changes! "The Laws Have Changed"? Like Wings if Linda McCartney were in charge and had any talent! "The End Of Medicine"? Move over, bacon! Now there's - no hang on. Yes, no - Bacon over, Move! Roy, Wood (would) you agree that this is a great song in the style of your old band ah fuck this

"Miss Teen Wordpower" is BOUNCY LIKE A BALL! "It's Only Divine Right" is Ramones Spy Music with the Five Americans' keyboard prodigy returning from the dead to lull the living into baking a casddsffffff-and "Chump Change!" and after it! Cartttooons!

The other songs suck. No no! Kidding! But if you wanted to argue that the New BjornBorgraphers are nothing but contemporaries of Weezer and New Zealand's top underground pop acts of ten years ago, you could point at "Loose Translation" or "July Jones" or that bland verse that precedes the creamy blisscone chorus of "The New Face Of Zero And One." But these are just song titles. I may have even just made them all up. What use are a bunch of made-up song titles when trying to explain to you why I love this band and love most of this album, but not ALL of this album? What I'm trying to say is that I don't like happy bouncy indie pop. But that's not what this band is all about. So of course during the moments that seem a bit too traditional or cliched, I get a bit edgy about the fact that I rave about them so much. That's all!

So let's sum up. Great band. Great album. A few songs are too traditional and/or nearly cliched at points, but not enough to mar the honey puddles of songwriting perfection that surround them. I'm not saying they'll be able to churn out 15 albums in a row of great bubblegum pop, but they've done darn well on two now! And if you're rounding way, way, way up, 2 is closer to 15 than it is to 0!

Reader Comments

cgverity@juno.com
This album isn't as good as the last but the production is fantastic. I'd say about 3/4 of the album is great and the rest ok. The first tune is killer while Loose Translation might be their best track so far. The interaction of Case and Newman in The Laws Have Changed are brilliant. There is so many hooks and melodies I cant keep it all straight. I think a third album if there is one will be defining. Love this band. Love Neko, love Carl though I'm not gay. Great band with much more to come if they can keep this together.

8 out of 10.

Jeffrey.Hubbard@thomson.com
Man oh man oh man, this album deserves at least a "9", just based on the fact that it towers over almost everything else released in the last five years, other than perhaps the first NP record. If catchy-ness were c notes, this album would be worth, oh, say, worthless asshole Michael Eisner's last ten paychecks!

As follows, I find jfrankparnell's comments under the debut's review heinously egregious (god, what a vocabulary I've got!). If you wanna criticize the White Stripes of the world, be my fucking guest! But both New Pornos' albums are minor miracles (wait, scratch that - MAJOR miracles) of writing and performance, and in any just world, this would be ruling the charts rather than Linkin Park, or whatever the hell else is doing so currently (I'm a bit out of touch with such info, I'll confess). So, seriously man, learn to appreciate the joy of the all-mighty hook - they're at a premium nowadays.

In general, as regards this platter, Dan Bejar's couple of offerings are my least favorites, the couple that feature Neko's succulent voice (and succulent "whatever else Neko's offering" - seriously, Mark, tell me that she's been nude in Playboy! I've heard otherwise, hottest alt-chick winner be damned) being my faves.

This album is only the barest hint behind the debut in quality, and that is saying a fistful! And I won't take it back, no matter how you torture me!

the_words@hotmail.com
I got this one a couple of years ago and was positively surprised, since it didn't get as much praise as the debut, neither from the "established" critics, nor your site. At times my opinion's been that this is actually better because it's more solid, though none of the tracks may be better than the peak of the debut. I'll just stay from choosing, but yeah, this shit rules.

Add your thoughts?

Twin Cinema - Matador 2005
Rating = 9

There's this one line in some old Primus song where Les Claypool says, "We need New Pornos!" He couldn't have known it at the time, but his comment was nothing more or less than the absolute musical truth in every direction and he should be given a special Clairvoyant's Award for his efforts. THIS ALBUM RULES SO MUCH ASS, IT IS QUITE LITERALLY THE KING OF A COUNTRY FILLED WITH ASS.

I'll admit it - that last album, though really good, made me a little less interested in the New Pornographers than I had been previously. I feared that the musical ideas would soon run dry and they'd become simply a cheery indie rock band. This has not occurred, I am thrilled to alert you. This album may only have four or five examples of their patent pending 'neu-bubblegum' sound, but the 11 or 12 other tracks are so filled with smart compositional ideas and beautiful harmony vocals that your mouth will be left as agape as that woman's in The Grudge after she gets her lower jaw (SPOILER ALERT) ripped off.

Oh sure, perhaps it earns an extremely low 9, what with a few tracks meandering in folksy strumming or music hall piano a bit too long before getting to the genius portion, but every single song does eventually turn into a big loud sugary example of what a band can achieve when they focus on creating catchy and unique vocal and melodic hooks. There are so many terrific hooks on here! Lots of acoustic guitars and pianos too, but not in a way that will detract from your fuzzy guitar enjoyment.

The New Pornographers take the lessons of the mid-'60s and apply them to the musical sounds of the 2000's. This is not retro music by any stretch of the armstrong, nor is it simply another Superchunky emo throwaway. The New Pornographers' music - whether adorable and cheery, pissed off and garagey, dark and weary, or psychedelic and tennis ball - rises above the hundreds and thousands of other "young rock" releases that stink up the mail system every year because it is the work of melodically intuitive minds that not only create songs you want to sing along with, but stamp them with a personality that could ONLY come from the New Pornographers. Anyone can write a basic pop/rock song. It takes a smart songwriter to write a catchy one, a smarter one to write an original one, and a goshdamned ARTIST to achieve both of these goals and still feel the need to add in those little arrangement 'extras' that separate his song from any that have come before.

Let me give a few examples of the sort of thing I'm talking about:

"Twin Cinema" - The way Carl cuts off the open vowels in the chorus (one of which is performed in falsetto!) with a hard stop "yeah!" each time through (or is it "ya"? Anyone have a lyric sheet?)

"The Bleeding Heart Show" - The sudden uptempo drumming and insanely beautiful "Hey-la" group vocals during the final third of this otherwise weary tune

"Jackie, Dressed In Cobras" - The oddly placed drum stops and starts (and does Dan Behar always sing with that weird glammy faux-Brit delivery?)

"The Jessica Numbers" - The overall discombobulating effect of merging light bubblegum vocals with such dark heavy music. And am I crazypants or does that stinging guitar near the end sound like the late George Harrison of solo albums fame?

"Falling Through Your Clothes" - The extremely odd repeat-loop altered vocals that make it sound like the record is skipping, although you young people wouldn't know about that with your fancy "chp-chp-chp" CD skips

"Broken Breads" - "LA-DA-DA-DA-DI-DI-DI-DI!"

"Three Or Four" - To be honest, I'm not very fond of this track, but holy sishkabob that unexpected "Oh! Oh!" band harmony part in the middle is AWESOME! And hear that weird noise during that part? That's what my dog sounds like when he's having a nightmare!

"Stacked Crooked" - This amazing Paul Revere & The Raiders-gone-psych tune is already a winner on all of my scales -- but then they put a mariachi fake horn line on top ANYWAY!

Now that I've finished naming songs and describing one element of them, let me speak a minute about the vocals on this record, because they are a major part of its appeal. Where the hell did Carl Newman find a singing voice that is so anonymous yet so amazing? And don't tell me "his parents" because I checked them and their voices aren't anything at all like that. It's downright amazonymous! His voice is completely devoid of ego, arrogance or even distinct personality -- it is pure musical sound manipulated into word form. Just another beautiful sound to go with the NP's already full-to-bustin' box of them. The clearest comparisons I can think of at the moment are Mark Lindsay's delivery in Paul Revere & The Raiders' "Him Or Me (What's It Gonna Be)" and whichever Turtle's delivery in The Turtles' "Do You Know What I Mean." It's just beautiful sound, singing a song in perfect key.

But that's not enough for this band! So they also pile on two-part, three-part, eighteen-part vocal harmonies -- not icky Crosby, Stills & Nash harmonies but warm, soft piles of multiple angelic voices both male and female singing together in a note-perfect spirit of musical and spiritual harmony as they offer the world a Coca-Cola beverage while standing on a hill together in 1970.

Basically, if you love music, you should enjoy this CD. And yes, I personally could do without a few of the folsier and less melodic moments (the first halves of "The Bones Of An Idol," "The Bleeding Heart Show," "Three Or Four" and "Streets Of Fire"), but 10 of the 14 tracks are among the most exhilirating I've heard in a coon's age (?), and even the 'weak four' eventually start cooking breakfast and piling on the syrup of creativity. Hold the bacon!

That was my breakfast analogy. I'm not really sure what the 'bacon' was intended to represent.

But one thing's for sure: Pass the biscuits!

Reader Comments

Jeffrey.Hubbard@thomson.com
This comes out tomorrow, and it’s hands down my most eagerly awaited el-pee of the year. I’ve read nothing but great things about this, and, as one of those nuts who does love “Electric Version,” if this one is honestly better, I’ll eat my own head.

Seriously, though, a review of a NP record without one reference to darling Neko? What is this world coming to?

escepticojr@hotmail.com
So far the best album of 2005. I was thinking the other day, this guys are so poppy and cheerful that probably many people after a couple of listens would label them as another disposable indie pop act or even worse, but that's far from being true. This guys are EXCELLENT musicians. The girl (don't know her name) has one of the most beautiful female voices i've heard in a long time. She surely does an excellent job on the second track ....and what about"letter from an occupant" from the first album also?. What? all female singers have beautiful voices? right... How would those songs sound if the girl from Blonde Redhead sing it? yes... like that...

ok... along with The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute... best albums of 2005 so far.

jdb942@mail.longwood.edu
Regarding Carl Newman's "anonymous" voice: He does have one distinguishing characteristic, and that is a Category 5 lisp, that is actually quite charming. Those stupid record-exec-Washington-fatcats would ever let a redheaded Canadian with a lisp front a band.

I agree that this band and album are incredible. Two of the greatest songwriters going today in the SAME BAND, and one of the best female vocalists (and hottest babes) around.

the_words@hotmail.com
Okay, I guess this is just as good as Electric Version if not better, but at this point I'm also starting to get fed up with a lot of elements in the NPs music. First of all, I never really dug Newman's vocals that much. Second, although I never listen to lyrics, whenever I "turn it up" I realize it's just intellectual bullshit. Not the lyrics as such, but the style of it. I'd rather have them sing about coffee cups, handclapping, shoes, whatever, just do it bubblegum. 'Cause this shit starts to ruin even Neko's vocals, which is one of the band's main strengths. Well, again, they can't obviously ruin the vocals as such, but it makes you not want to listen to it, sort of. Anyway, I gotta split, so I'll say "Star Bodies" is my favourite song here... And oh, a minus that unlike the previous two records, the 1st track here is pretty weak. 8/10 on a good day, 6/10 on a mediocre/bad day.

dullygray@letterboxes.org
To tell the truth, I intended to comment on the New Pornographers long ago, but then the university year started and my students began giving me a really bad time. So there.

I just have to say this: listening to the Pornographers is pure and utter joy, it’s like listening to the Chills’ “Heavenly Pop Hit” for the first time ever. Effortless, clever, intelligent, melodic as hell. As much as I love Colin Meloy and Barat and Doherty and all, A.C. Newman has got to be the most breathtaking contemporary songwriter. And, quite contrary to what some people say, I don’t seem to get tired of him. Twin Cinema, for instance. It’s almost ridiculous how well-written this album is, what with all those lush hooks, both instrumental and vocal. The greatly constructed and greatly Neko Case-sung folk-anthemic delight “Bleeding Heart Show”, my absolute favourite here, still gives me chills; the glammy and over-the-top “Jackie Dressed In Cobras” could have been a worthy outtake from a 70’s Sparks record; “Sing Me Spanish Techno”, with its genius flow of unforgettable melodies, just left me totally speechless the first time I listened to it. Etc, of course.

Well, I guess I could do without the decent, but slightly numb “Three Or Four”, but that doesn’t even count. What counts is that I’m still having a hard time believing I could get so much excitement from a modern-day album (due thanks to Mark Prindle and his reviews). I still don’t have the others by the band, but I’m getting there.

Also, on a related note, Neko Case’s Fox Confessor album sounds NOTHING like the New Pornographers, but sounds positively fantastic.

matthewbyrd@hotmail.com
I have a little trouble understanding how you can rate this album below Mass Romantic. That record was indeed marvelous, but with a few "downer tracks." I really, really don't think ANY of the songs on this album are sub-par. There are a few that indeed start off modestly, but as you noted they soon reveal beautiful choruses or some other amazing element. But I would argue that even the modest sections are great in and of themselves and they help to make the build-up to next part of the song more amazing than it already is. Case in point: "The Bleeding Heart Show." That song by the way..... is possibly the most gorgeous song I have ever heard in my life....... actually it definitely is.

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Live! - The Blue Curtain 2006
Rating = 8

You know, I've always loved graphs. Pie graphs, line graphs - you name it, I graphed it. So I guess it was really only a matter of time before I got heavily into porno graphs. And that's why I love this band! With jugs on the X axis and cooter on the Y, The New P

"The New Pornographers' Liver!? What do I care about The New Pornographers' Liver!? Elizabeth! I'm comin' to join ya!" - Redd Foxx

I don't know if Carl Newman had been chewing on a bucket of rocks or what, but his pretty voice is going to hell on this live album. Still, it's (hard to beat) those awesome vocal harmonies -- at times performed by five people at once! Which reminds me: people keep telling me I should review Neko Case, but my expertise is writing record reviews. I wouldn't know the first thing about reviewing a woman.

In this live set, The 'ew Pornogra'ers rip through two Mass Romantic tracks, tear up five Electric Version numbers, shred apart five Twin Cinema shanties, and end it all with a beautiful rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," marred only by some botched lead guitar and Neko laughing at the beginning of each verse like the audience is a comedian or some shit.

Let me tell you something -- I may never listen to The New Pornographers, or get in the mood to listen to them, or even think about them except when they put out a new album for review, but my complete lack of enthusiasm towards their very existence doesn't change the fact that Carl Newman is a songwriting genius. Do you hear me? Genits. The man throws together some of the smartest chord changes and most beautiful vocal harmonies we've heard since the days of the New Pornographers. And sure, maybe that wasn't the best comparison in the world, but it's getting late and I want to watch M, starring Peter Lorre as the letter M.

Live! is no more a must-own than any other live album whose songs sound just like the studio versions but with worse vocals, but the songs remains mahvelous!

Which reminds me of a hilarious passage from Billy Crystal's 1985 hit single "You Look Mahvelous":

"Cher?"
"Mahvelous!"
"Chaka Khan?"
"Mahvelous!"
"Vanity?"
"Mahvelous!"
"Apollonia?"
"Mahvelous!"
"MADONNA?"
"HER BELLY BUTTON IS ABSOLUTELY MAHVELOUS!"

Heh heh. Good old Billy Crystal. Will he never cease to make us stop laughing?

I'll close with a delightful "Mark & Henry" web comic drawn by a guy on my message board. See what you're missing by not being on my message board?

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Challengers - Matador 2007
Rating = 7

I believe it was Tangerine Puppets bassist John Cummings who said, "Any band who changes is a asshole." Unfortunately, such a buffoonish blanket statement turns out to be true as the wind in the case of Canada's Burgeoning Hardcore Pornography Industry. Challengers is The New Pornographers' Soft Bulletin -- their "ego music," as artistic genius Mike Love might say. Nevermore the cheery catchy bubblegum goodness of yesterday; now they're Serious Artists playing slow-to-midtempo Serious Art Music -- piano-driven symphonic pop filled out with guitars, organs, mandolin, glockenspiel, banjo, cello, accordian, French Horn, trumpet, harp, flute, piccolo, viola and violin. These are serious instruments; don't laugh at them. (Except maybe the banjo) (Ha ha! A banjo!)

Let me stress that it's not this artsy-smartsy stylistic shift that drags the band down to its first 7/10; remember I gave Pet Sounds a 10 when I was expecting to hate its boring overrated guts. No, the problem with Challengers is that for every great melody that Carl - OH EXCUSE ME I MEAN "A.C." - Newman comes up with this time around, he gives us another that does nuttin but sound pretentious and repeat itself 5 hundred billion times (example: compare the rainy day prettiness that begins "Unguided" with the 4 minutes of NOTHING that wraps it up). Instead of sounding majestic and cultivated, these unmelodic 'mature' passages sound like they're trying to be majestic and cultivated. WHY NOT JUST CHANGE YOUR NAME TO 'NEW SERIOUS FILMMAKERS,' A-HOLE???

Not that any member of this band is literally an 'a-hole.'

Even Dan Bejar's simple folksy compositions are drenched in alienatingly self-important aesthetic touches this time around (the worst example being the talk-sing call/response arrangement of "Myriad Harbour," though admittedly the chorus is quite lovely). And what's up with Bejar sounding like a middle-aged woman? Someone give that guy a testosterone ball.

I realize I'm giving the impression that Challengers is just a bunch of shitty songs gussied up with sparkly fairy powder, but that's because I'm a poor writer. So let's move on to the plusses, since a 7/10 isn't exactly the lowest grade in the world (see http://www.markprindle.com/madonnaa.htm#american).

Just like the (Flaming Lips') similarly hit-or-miss (but more hit-than-this) Soft Bulletin (album), Challengers occasionally strikes gold so rich and deep that its abundance of lesser tracks just doesn't matter anymore. Where the Flaming Lips had the heartachingly angelic "Waiting For A Superman," "Race For A Prize" and (something something), the New Pornographers have the melancholy yet hopeful beauty of "Failsafe," "Go Places," "Adventures In Solitude" and the title track. And if it's neither melancholia nor hope you're looking for, "All The Old Showstoppers" alternates banjo pickin' with E.L.O. over-orchestration! Still, it probably says something loudly that the most lovable song on the album is also the only one that actually sounds like the New Pornographers: the exuberant, peppy bubblegum gem "Mutiny, I Promise You."

One other thing: 800,000,000 people sing backup vocals on nearly every song. According to the credits, only 5 of the 8 (!) band members contribute vocals, so they must be multi-multi-tracked like nuts. I mean, these are waves and crowds and STADIUMS full of people singing in harmony with each other. And when I say "harmony," I ain't talkin' 'bout the Three Dog Night album!

Other notable tracks include Paul Williams' "Old Fashioned Love Song" and Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain." In addition, Williams' "Family of Man" would just fail to crack the top of the charts. This continued commercial brilliance would, unfortunately, have negative repercussions on vocalist Chuck Negron's personal life with a car accident following a substance-fuelled mixing session, signaling the beginning of his protracted slide into drug addiction and eventual penis explosion.

I fuckin love the fact that Chuck Negron's penis exploded. Why didn't he photograph it for an album cover? They could have called it Ground Chuck or Gettin' It UP-CHUCK! or The Jon Spencer Penis Explosion. Man, talk about blowing it! Not really though; who'd want to fellate an exploded penis?

Also, did you know that Chuck Negron's cousin is none other than comedy actor Taylor "I'm The Man; I'm So Bad I Should Be In Detention" Negron!? Well, he IS! Taylor's gay though, while Chuck just has an exploded penis.

Remember that time Ash Bowie of Polvo found a sketch of Chuck Negron's penis and named his album Exploded Penis Drawing until Merge Records' "Mac" objected? That was awesome.

I apologize for the tangent. It's just really hard for me to see the word "pornographers" without thinking of Chuck Negron's sexy, sexy exploded penis.

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Together - Matador 2010
Rating = 8

My wife and I have been Together for 16 years -- almost as long as this web site. Look around a bit and you'll find reviews that refer to her as "my girlfriend," "my fiancee" and, of course, "that whore." But the bottom line is, we've been Together.

I first saw her on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill in 1993, and immediately thought, "Saaaaaay! Cutie!" Unfortunately, she was dating one of my fellow WXYC DJs and I didn't use soap. Eventually, however, Fate couldn't resist poking Cupid's arrow at my stupid long hair, and he posited us both at the same St. Patrick's Day party on N. Greensboro Street. At the time I didn't drink, but I was lonely as dirt so I attended every party I could get my hands on -- then usually wound up sulking silently on the couch. But this night, upon seeing said young lass standing by a table with balloons, I walked up and began making 'hilarious' balloon animal jokes (examples: "It's a snake!" "It's a bear with no arms, legs or head!). Before you knew it, we were talking the night away, eventually setting a date to drive into Durham the next day.

That date went poorly. I picked her up in my ridiculously gigantic 1983 Monte Carlo with my hair in a pony tail, a gaudy Ramones t-shirt on my torso, budget wire-framed glasses on my face, and The Rolling Stones' Emotional Rescue on the tape deck. We drove to Durham and I talked about how great Beavis & Butthead was. Afterwards, we didn't speak for two months.

Eventually, out of boredom, we began "hanging out" and "attending shows" together, and the next thing you know, we were inseparable!

Then I broke up with her because she was a bitch.

But then we got back Together again and were inseparable!

Until I broke up with her for being such a bitch.

But then we got back Together again and were inseparable forever more!

Until now.

My wife is currently looking for an apartment to sublet so she can get the Hell away from me for a few months. Apparently she doesn't find my obsessive-compulsive disorder and lack of self-confidence anywhere near as entertaining as you, the reader, do. She is bored, feels trapped in the marriage, and has very little respect left for me. Presumably I squandered it through (a) fifteen months of unemployment and (b) getting tanked and threatening to kill myself every few weeks. Still, I never saw this coming.

I'll respect her privacy by not sharing the details of how everything reached crisis proportions last week, but let it be known I'm not the only guilty party here. Her overall good mood and near-complete lack of communication -- except for occasional tearful outburts of "I DON'T WANT TO BE MARRIED TO YOU ANYMORE!" over the years -- led me to believe that everything was fine with our relationship. Not perfect (what relationship IS!?), but certainly passable as far as marriages go. Apparently I was badly, badly mistaken.

She feels no passion from me or for me. No spark. No excitement. Which is weird because my Video Reviews are hilarious.

I realize now that I have not been a very exciting husband. I love comfort too much, so whenever I run across an activity I enjoy (watching horror movies, eating at Pizza Uno, 'Drinking Nights') I tend to return to it over and over again. Add that to my over-use of the Internet and it's pretty easy to see why she would get bored coming home to me every night. But I had no idea that she felt a million miles away from me. She didn't mention it because I was out of work and under tremendous personal stress. So we just fell farther and farther and farther apart. In her mind anyway, which is half of what matters.

I can never again take for granted the time that we spend Together. I always assumed that once we were married we'd be set for life, but it turns out there's work involved. Communication work on her side, and not being a boring cowardly asshole work on my side. I pray that therapy and persistence will help us to build a better marriage Together, because I never, ever want to see the day that my reviews refer to her as 'my ex.'

As for this album, WHO GIVES A SHIT!? (*pisses on America*)

Together is not a return to the joyous bubblegum pop of their early records, nor a reiteration of the standard indie rock that characterized Challengers. Instead, it's a pleasant midtempo jalopy of richly arranged and beautifully sung '60s-tinged pop. Melodic pop, folk-pop, baroque pop, sunshine pop, orchestral pop -- you name it, they add 'pop' to it! It's also very violiny, at times sounding like that first Electric Light Orchestra album (back before Roy Wood quit and they turned into The Oversaturated Schmaltz Band).

But regardless of the arrangements, which merge acoustic and electric guitars, cello, piano, trumpet, flutes and sax with the band's always lovely group harmony vocals, it's once again Carl Newman's incredible songwriting talent that gives the record its reason de eater. Whether couched in regal strings, rocked with bombastic guitar drama, Beach Boyed with reverbed harmonies or saddened into balladry sorrow, Newman's instrumental and vocal melodies are among the most original and hummable emanating from the independent rock cesspool of Pitchfork horse shit today.

I could say some bad things about it too -- some dull Beatles chords here, Bejar's silly voice there, an 'eh' chorus there, a song dragging on for 400 years there -- but why would I do that? Why would anyone in the world do that? Make it stop! Make it stop when people do that!

In conclusion, this record destroyed my marriage and I hope it dies and goes to Hell.

Reader Comments

edoslan@gmail.com
I always found your tales of you getting shitfaced with your wife, watching horror movies and playing silly music to be quite romantic and felt a tinge of jealousy... like when am I going to find the love of my life who shares an affinity for booze and shitty movies? Used to have it a looong time ago. There is no perfect solution, the fans are routing for you. We prefer the happy Mark who disses stuff other than himself!

newdayrising101@yahoo.com (Trey)
"I picked her up in my ridiculously gigantic 1983 Monte Carlo with my hair in a pony tail, a gaudy Ramones t-shirt on my torso, budget wire-framed glasses on my face, and The Rolling Stones' Emotional Rescue on the tape deck. We drove to Durham and I talked about how great Beavis & Butthead was. Afterwards, we didn't speak for two months"

^This is fucking hilarious. Good luck, i genuinely hope you two can work things out.

the_words@hotmail.com
I know it's gonna sound like I'm placing puns at an inappropriate moment (which I'm NOT) but this one sort of feels like the end of it for me and the NP. I got the album yesterday and I should listen it to it a few more times before making a judgement but for now I just got the feeling that they're finished from my point of view. It's not really their fault. If they change, I'm likely to complain about how they used to make better choices, and if they don't change - as they barely have this time - I will complain that the formula is getting old. It's becoming like self-parody. I already felt this tiredness of it when the third one came out, but then Challengers came along, sounded somewhat fresh and had a couple of really good songs.

As for the rest, well, I always appreiciate the stories you put in the occasional review. I'm not sure if the first comment here suggests that you're sulking, but that's not my impression. Obviously it's not exactly happy days though, but it's the same Mark Prindle.

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