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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Music Review: The Canadian Underground and Neko --The New Pornographers Get Challenging

Ok everybody who has a solo album can relax...

The New Pornographers aren't afraid of ambition. Their previous album Twin Cinema, played with texture and structure while retaining the trademark hooks and bounce that make the New Pornos what they are. There was also the sense that perhaps chanteuse Neko Case had outgrown the band for the increasing demands of her solo career and that perhaps singer/ songwriter/guitarslinger Dan Bejar was growing tired of putting his main gig as Destroyer aside.
A.C. Newman is still the Pornographer in chief but the bands new album Challengers (Matador) features three terrific Bejar songs, lots of delicious Neko vocals, a lead vocal from Newman's niece Kathryn Calder and a newly expansive (and expensive) sounding palette. Everything on Challengers is like this: bigger, longer, more instruments -- and yet it works. The knack for a great hook and a well-structured arrangement hasn't left Newman and even with strings and mandolins and horns and piccolos and wurlitzers thrown into the mix the songs are allowed to breathe and the sharp playing, especially drummer Kurt Dahle, shine through.
Highlights include the one-two punch of the title track and Bejar's jaunty New York ode "Myriad Harbor", and the shivery phased guitar-fest that is "Failsafe". The overall sound is akin to late-60's Beach Boys but the New Pornos don't lose their own identity. This takes a little longer to reveal it's charms than their earlier more straight-ahead power-pop but it's well worth the time spent listening to one of their strongest sets of songs.
Four out of Five Challengers for Challengers:

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