Under Review: The New Pornographers – Together

I know it goes against just about everything I’ve shown in my musical elucidations, but I have a nearly infinite amount of patience for The New Pornographers.  Maybe it’s that I’m a fan of their individual members’ projects, or that I’ve found so much to enjoy on their previous four albums (yes, even Challengers), but I have a hard time not liking this band.  It’s weird that, years ago, I wouldn’t have to make excuses for being a fan of a band that most everyone seems to think has gone downhill after their debut.  Personally, I could sooner see the band being criticized for reproducing the same album year after year than for making anything that didn’t live up to its predecessor.  Each New Pornographers outing is going to have a lot of the same elements, but will just the same feature a new batch of tricks that maintain the band’s status as one of my favorites of this generation.

The NP’s new album, Together, is no different; it’s a fresh mix of old parts used in new ways.  On the whole, there are more of the upbeat moments to make up for Challengers’ overt lack.  There’s the sort-of title track, “Your Hands (Together),” that finds the band in the serious reading of nonsense lyrics mode that made their debut, Mass Romantic, such a silly and fun listen.  That song, like “Up In The Dark” and “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” shows off Carl Newman’s talent as a total hook machine.  Neko Case’s voice commands many of the songs on Together, especially “My Shepherd,” which would’ve sounded just as at home on Middle Cyclone as it does here.  As the third leader, Dan Bejar’s presence is becoming increasingly superfluous.  He doesn’t appear to perform on any songs that aren’t his, and the three songs he contributes to Together (with the possible exception of “Silver Jenny Dollar”) seem like Destroyer leftovers.  Bejar doesn’t seem to be that interested in this band anymore, and it really shows.

You might think it excessive for an album by an octet to have guest musicians, but Together features just that.  Ben Kalb’s cello gets a ton of workout in the opening couplet of “Moves” and “Crash Years,” and The Dap Kings supply some bright brass work.  Other outside contributions include some guitar lines from St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, backing vocals from Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, and trumpet lines from Beirut’s Zach Condon.  Intentionally or not, it’s kind of hard to pick out where each of these guests appears on Together, though it does say something about how easily musicians can be absorbed into to the New Pornographers’ extended family.  The end result of all this collaboration is a pretty impressive album, though it takes more than just a listen or two for the new material to stick.  Chalk it up to the overwhelming amount of talent that’s present on all New Pornographers albums, or to the fact that you’re still hesitant to give in to the band’s unrelentingly upbeat character.  Believe me, if there’s one band to keep an open mind about, it’s The New Pornographers.  Their albums might need some time to set in, but those loyal enough to stick with them will be rewarded with some unendingly enjoyable and skillfully crafted power pop.

Click HERE to stream Together (via NPR Music)


~ by E. on May 3, 2010.

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