Monday, August 25, 2014

Gut Feeling: The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers
Matador, 2014
The New Pornographers are making records like there are other bands vying for the title of finest power pop band of the 21st Century. As usual, no one even comes close to matching the explosive, soulful, and devastatingly hooky pop Carl Newman and company have been crafting since the turn of the century. Their last two records—2007’s Challengers and 2010’s Together—were understated, democratic affairs, that were enjoyable but seemingly shooting for loftier emotional payoff rather than pop majesty. Brill Bruisers is their most undeniable record since their 2005 masterpiece Twin Cinema and a mighty return to form.

Has it really been almost ten years since Twin Cinema? That record is still so fresh in my mind. Driving down I-35, blaring it the day it came out, understanding that it was going to be my favorite record of the year. Undeniable. The kind of music with a direct line to that kinetic link between my heart and mind. Nine years later I’m driving down the same highway, listening to Brill Bruisers, and feeling that same satisfaction. And I’m thinking Brill Bruisers is the better album. It just feels like a classic.

While a lot of what I love about Brill Bruisers is rooted in a gut-level appreciation for the booming guitars and lovely harmonies, but have been actively tricking my brain into appreciating all of the elements that went into making this immensely satisfying record. First, it’s a wonderful blend of something old and something new. The aforementioned full-bodied guitars that morph into a big wall of sound at will are like sonic comfort food, but it’s worth mentioning that Neko Case and Dan Bejar are coming off the best albums of their respective careers and there’s something about Brill Bruisers that feels like an All Star Game, but with actual stakes. Carl Newman (who is also coming off the best solo album of his career) plays ringleader, effortlessly corralling all of these elements like a master alchemist.

The Neko led “Champions of Red Wine” is buoyed by sparkling synthesizers and despite having throaty, driving guitars backing her up, it’s the album’s most intimate moment. The crunchy guitars that anchor two thirds of Dan Bejar’s tracks are perhaps the furthest thing form the euro disco vibe on his latest album as destroyer, Kaputt. “Born with a Sound” oscillates between heavy verses and effervescent choruses thanks to the sweetness of Kathryn Calder’s co-vocals. His other stand-out track is the album’s single “War on the East Coast” which is a delightful bit of fun with menacing guitars and the busy synthesizers that tie the whole album together.

There are so many treats on Brill Bruisers that it’s impossible to list them all. The ELO inspired vocoded vocals on “Backstairs.” The token late album change-of-pace track “Wide Eyes” features the album’s best interplay between Case and Newman and it’s just nonchalantly tucked away! Slow burning closer “You Tell Me Where” ends the album the way all New Pornographers albums end: with big, satisfying harmonies and perfect synthesis. It’s amazing this group is still together, considering how successful Neko Case and Dan Bejar have become in their own careers. Still, after 14+ years, maybe it’s inertia keeping these guys together. And in that case, thank god for inertia. I don’t expect this album to grow, not really. They don’t have to evolve. I look forward to their albums because I know I’m going to get the best, soul satisfying power pop the modern music world has to offer and yet here I am, delightfully surprised that the group has somehow gotten better. I’m going to appreciate it while it lasts, which will hopefully be a long long time.

"War on the East Coast"

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