Thursday, May 1, 2008

The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema - 2005

Canadian indie-rock supergroup led by Carl Newman (previously of Zumpano and Superconductor), the New Pornographers produce totally over-the-top power pop, saturated with nearly every exciting trick in the rock songbook. Stop-start turns, Beach Boys harmonies, squiggly synthesizers, fuzzy guitar chords, layer upon layer of sound — the New Pornographers pack songs with maximum pop pleasure. No matter that Newman came up with the band name before he learned that Jimmy Swaggart once called music "the new pornography": their music offers an obscene amount of fun. Primary songwriter Newman is joined by Dan Bejar (who leads the excellent Destroyer), alt-country singer Neko Case and three other Vancouver indie-scene vets in this side-project that rapidly turned permanent after the accolades that greeted Mass Romantic.
While the band's first two albums could be considered uniform to a fault (though it’s hard to fault a formula that works so well), Newman, Case and Bejar seem to have agreed to free their individual personalities more for Twin Cinema. The result is a more challenging and dynamic album. Newman's new direction here is reminiscent of the shift his former band Zumpano took on their second album, Goin' Through Changes: while the off-kilter time signatures still abound, the melodies are subtler and the production (by Newman alone) is less overwhelming. Bejar’s three songs are less of a departure, but his standout is a duet with Case on "Streets of Fire," a song which first appeared on a Destroyer album more than a decade earlier. (So much for his don't-look-back mentality and the Pornographers' determined submersion of individualism). For her part, though, Case seems uncomfortable taking the reins, and the two songs on which she sings lead are tinny and plodding, with mannered vocals and none of the raw power that made "Letter to an Occupant" and "The Laws Have Changed" so irresistible. She seems much more comfortable providing warm harmony vocals on a third of the songs, which would be fine if she hadn’t already set the bar so high. - [Steve Klinge / Ira Robbins / John Proctor]AMG

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