British Columbia's finest proponents of Indie power pop deliver a marvellous fifth studio album. 'Together' is the follow up to 2007's 'Challengers', an album that although very well received only charted at 156 in the UK. So are The New Pornographers still a rather well kept secret that the discerning listener of well crafted, jaunty intelligent pop don't want you to share in?
The Vancouver based band are a collective of artistically fertile and prolific musicians. The two main singer song writers on Together, A.C Newman (Allan Carl to his family) and Dan Bejar have indulged in either solo work in the case of Newman, or fronted other side projects, Destroyer, Swan Lake and Hello, Blue Roses in the case of Bejar. Also Neko Case, the American that once graduated under the Maple Leaf and who shares some vocal duties, has her own acclaimed solo sidelines. It's fair to say that writers block, stage fright, or creative exhaustion have so far not appeared to bother the band.
'Together' by The New Pornographers is a band of ghosts who are mining their fin de siele imagery for all it's worth' apparently! Oh yes 'They don't use drum machines' and 'They do love a windmill.' Tie all that together with the band being named after a 1966 Japanese film 'An Introduction To Anthropology' set in Osaka and you may get some idea of why Dan Bejar, for one, has been cited for being cryptic. Accessibility is both their barrier to some and their USP to many others.
The band have said to have drawn on influences from The Cars and Cheap Trick to arrive at their sound. This tells only part of the story as 'Their' sound is now so evolved from their influences that some contemporary or alternate comparisons are more relevant. The eloquent, catchy and clever pop now has more commonality with the likes of Rilo Kiley, Teenage Fanclub, Belle And Sebastian, Echo Belly and Ben Folds. The solo work of Newman being compared to that of Ray Davis is born out once again here in the quality of his lyrics and ability to deliver a fabulous tune to boot.
'The Moves' breaks us in to the twelve set piece. It's string heavy nods to chamber pop with 'Lots of cello' and harmonised vocals tease you as an appetiser to the magnificence about to be served. 'The Crash Years' , not a song about the recent reformation of the Primitives, the questionable David Cronenberg film or the Oscar winning Matt Dillon L.A focused movie, but a song about 'You' a composition, containing all of about 20 words, from the 1975 Extra Texture album by George Harrison! Whatever the reasoning there is no doubting the brilliance, especially the sing-a-long chorus and Peter Gabriel esc whistling. 'Your Hands Together' maintains the extremely high quality and when it kicks in at 1m10s & again at 2m30s you'll be sure to be skipping about the room. 'Silver Jenny Dollar' lightens the pace but gives plenty to be thankful for 'We were only ever passing through, Cartilege and Sinew was the name of our act.' 'The Shepherd' is a piano lead more reflective number. With yet another joyful chorus set within the dynamics of a cleverly constructed song it works on many levels especially lyrically........
The improv's polished into working script,
We stare in wonder at the steps we skipped,
Tripping wires we have so carefully crossed,
The science behind it at a perfect loss.
'What Turns Up In The Dark' is the long awaited answer to the perpetual question 'What's love?' Track #9, 'Valkyrie and the Roller Disco' has the auspicious distinction of the best song title on the album. At its centre a darker more troubled protagonists theme is still terrifically evocative 'You stand in the puddle of the disco balls glow.'
Together falls short of finishing with the same heady delights that are encountered in its first half but nevertheless still delivers throughout, with the possible exception of 'Daughters Of Sorrow'. The awkward song never really gets going, it's never quite sure of itself. The closer, 'We End Up Together', about 'family dynamics' rescues the set. The interwoven dueted vocals, strings and skipping beat rounding off the album with an understated air of confidence in their achievement and ability.
The New Pornographers, aided by The Dap Kings, Zach Condon from Beirut, and Will Sheff of Okkervil Rivers, among others, have produced a great album full of proper pop. Their aim to make their songs 'A surgical intervention for punture-wounded civilians everywhere' is well intended and deserving of much credit. (Can't really explain why but the album kept reminding me of the film Reality Bites)
You can catch them live at the Electric Ballroom, London, on 19th May or failing that they are on the line up for Lollapalooza this year. You could do a lot worse than to give them a quick spin.