Review of Brill Bruisers Album by The New Pornographers

"I never met the old ones" goes the (pretty rubbish) joke that references the The New Pornographers' slightly Puckish choice of name. They're in fact the opposite of what you might perceive from the handle: far from being sleazy or discrete, the Vancouver collective are smart without being highbrow, prosaic, charming and rhapsodic all at the same time.

The New Pornographers Brill Bruisers Album

Unfair as might be, comparisons between them and fellow Canadians Arcade Fire have been drawn in the past. If, however, as a unit they were feeling any contrived sense of pressure after a four year absence since their last release 'Together', there are no signs of it here. The main reason for the prolonged gestation was in fact largely due to the compressed schedules of the band's various members, of whom the likes of Neko Case and Dan Berjar have side line careers as solo performers or as part of other successful groups. Lead singer A.C. Newman is no slouch himself of course; a writer with a trio of his own albums under his belt and of whom 2009's 'Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer' is a perennial favourite. In any event, 'Brill Bruisers' is now here with us, a record which seems unlikely to diminish The New Pornographers' upward momentum.

Newman has admitted that he's comfortable about the album title's ambiguity - with it's connotations of both confident pugilists and the original 60s hit factory - but, more tellingly, also that of the shadow cast by ELO, the English group which annexed pop music in the mid to late 1970s via minor epic songs such 'Mr. Blue Sky' and 'Sweet Talkin' Woman'. Their direct influence here is most keenly felt on 'Fantasy Fools', with it's multi-tracked vocals (from Newman and Case), sky-scraping chorus and rabble rousing dynamic. 

If that's backward looking, this shouldn't be thought of as a token of being unambitious; 'Brill Bruisers' is a vibrant, accomplished work, stuffed full of songs without pretence but above all, it's the sound of a bunch of people clearly having huge fun in the process. Normally, it's a thin but imperceptible line between a band sending themselves up and releasing their inner pop, but here, thankfully, on songs like 'Dancehall Domine' and the psychedelically tinged title track, even the thought of leaving the kitchen sink on the sidelines isn't entertained. 

With self-consciousness not an issue, the glad times roll: the sludge bass and cranky riffs of 'War On The East Coast' give way to sort of wide eyed electronic disco fuzz that The Killers would these days kill for, whilst the FM radio stomp of 'Marching Orders' and its will o' the wisp keyboards lay claim to high point for the musically sweet-toothed. Amongst this clutch of gems, however, one edges things by a nose. On 'Backstairs', The New Pornographers are neither their most inclusive or strident, but its sublime mix of delightful, vocoded beigeness contrasts brilliantly with cerebrum grabbing harmonies, the chimera sounding like French hipsters Air on a hot date with... Arcade Fire. Gulp.

There we have it then: 'Brill Bruisers' is the sort of cosmopolitan kid who sits in the corner of your class at school, laughing at everything, and with a wicked glint in their eye. Flamboyant, pretty and unwilling to leave until you ask it for a dance, it could also just about be the winner of the most intelligent, grown-up, dressed down indie rock album of the year. 2014 has been a good year for essential albums. A pity only for the sake of your bank balance, this is another.


Andy Peterson

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