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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

The New Pornographers – Together – Album Review

Canadian supergroup led by AC Newman returns, their latest album being a rip-roaring collection of joyful harmonies

Written by Ian Steadman

ew pornographers

“When I found out our record was coming out the same day as Broken Social Scene‘s I wanted to call Kevin Drew and shoot a little promo video, viagra where it’s like the two of us just facing each other on a windy day and then we embrace to the strains of ‘Wake Up’ by Arcade Fire. That would be like a dual ad for both of our albums. But I’m too lazy. I was distracted.”

I like this story, pharmacy partly because it’s so lovely, viagra but partly also because it illustrates something I’ve always wondered about the Canadian music scene – what’s the rivalry like? What kind of tension is there? Is it like West Side Story, with every band and artist split off into one of two camps and every now and again they’ll have a stand off in the street, Kevin Drew and AC Newman squaring up before one of them pops his collar and shrugs it off? All those artists come across as so lovely, so the thought of them having some kind of ruckus in the street only to have it broken up by the neutral Arcade Fire amuses me.

But I’m digressing – I’m here to talk about Together, the latest record from the New Pornographers, one of the two Canadian supergroups of the last decade (the other being, if you hadn’t worked it out by now, the Kevin Drew-led Broken Social Scene), and a record that I can almost label a return to form (if such a label is legitimate for a band who never really lost their form, who merely went from being excellent to very good for a while). AC Newman is the ‘leader’, as much as he can be called such, and his comrades in arms are Neko Case, Dan Bejar (of Destroyer), Todd Fancey, John Collins, Kathryn Calder, and Kurt Dahle – all artists who have made names for themselves as very good solo artists, as well as frequent collaborators with each other in various capacities. The Broken Social Scene lot are equally prolific, but their style has always been a kind of sloppy shoegaze/Pavement hybrid; the New Pornographers are a straight power pop band, a genre that can infuriate as much as charm. It’s not extremely different to what constituted ‘pop music’ back in the 60s and 70s, but I suppose giving it its own name can help make it sound a little more sincere than just normal pop music.

For Together, the group have also enlisted the aid of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, Beirut’s Zach Condon (with a trumpet tracK), backing vocals by Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, and singing from the nu-soul group the Dap-Kings. There’s very little silence, with every gap between chorus and verse filled with whistling or (more so than in past records) cello – instruments are piled on top of each other into some kind of approximation of a wall of sound, but it’s not the slab of noise that characterises all those old pop songs but instead just sheer weight of numbers that makes these songs so noisy – yet thanks to fantastic production, it’s all as clear as a bell.

Hook after hook after hook come firing out of the speakers. So one doesn’t stick? Here’s three more! After the slight dip in joyousness that marked 2007′s disappointing Challengers, this, their fifth record, sees them, above all, being happy again. ‘Valkyrie and the Roller Disco’ is the closest to a slow song, but it’s still got something of a beating heart. Throughout Together, the drumming clomps and the guitars hum alongside Newman & Co’s harmonies – there’s the 70s hard rock lick that underpins ‘Your Hands (Together)’, then the dreaming pop ballad of ‘If You Can’t See My Mirrors’, and the gorgeous string-soaked finale of ‘We End Up Together’, building up to its chorus of, “ma, ma, ma, ma,” over and over.

The thing about ‘super’ groups is that they always come with such damned high expectations. For a group like the New Pornographers, the slightest dip in quality is pounced upon as being indicative of the beginning of the end; even more cruelly, they have to reach higher to achieve the deliver the same kind of satisfaction as their peers simply because there’s so much talent in one place. They can toss out compositions easily (and, in the past, it has occasionally felt like that), but here they’ve clearly tried hard to put together something that’s as great a sum of its parts as they are – it’s quite possibly their best album since 2005′s masterful Twin Romantic. Here’s hoping they can keep this going for another decade.

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