Fire Note Says: The New Pornographers deliver once again.
Album Review: The New Pornographers are fourteen years in and still making great music. The magic that the band has captured over the years is to mix each member’s unique voice and attitude into a whole that somehow manages to exceed the sum of its parts. For those unaware The New Pornographers are an indie collective consisting of Carl Newman, Neko Case, and Dan Bejar, among others. Newman provides the pop, Case the heart, and Bejar the strange/weird/funk. Brill Bruisers, their sixth release together, both allows for their distinct voices to be heard but also has the feel that each continues to influence the other, making that aforementioned distinction less blatant or jarring than it has been in previous releases.
For example, Bejar’s tracks have generally been easy to spot. While some are great (“Myriad Harbour,” “Jackie Dressed In Cobras”), others tend to not be as memorable. However, the songs that Bejar leads on Brill Bruisers are the ones that pop in your ears upon first listen. “Spidyr” is one of the more subdued numbers on the album, which is decidedly upbeat. Bejar’s intense, enunciated vocals on “Spidyr” combine with harmonica (!) to make something special. Just over two minutes, it lingers in your head long after it ends. “War On The East Coast” and “Born With A Sound” also work well. “Born With A Sound” pairs Bejar with Kathryn Calder on vocals, and much like “Spidyr,” this is a new sound that the band has created on this album. That sound is welcome and hopefully a new flavor that can be added in the future.
The most “The New Pornographers” song on Brill Bruisers is its title track. When the single was released online I gave it an immediate listen and got very excited for the release of the album. Newman’s lyrics are as diffuse as ever, but the harmony, melody, and unrelenting drive of the music measure up to the band’s previous work. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, “Brill Bruisers” is a litmus test to determine if The New Pornographers are for you.
Album closer “You Tell Me Where” is maybe the best track on the entire album. It didn’t resonate on the first listen, but the second time around it really struck a chord. That second play immediately became a third, then a fourth, etc. Its tone matches that of “Brill Bruisers” but is delivered with more urgency. This would be a great song to hear at the end of a concert (they’ll be in Columbus, OH in September). Newman and Case share vocal duties and this is her strongest work on the album.
My only complaint with “Brill Bruisers” is the relative weakness of Case’s showcase tunes. “Champions of Red Wine” and “Marching Orders” are okay but don’t rise to the level of the other pieces. That’s a shame because Case was the driving force behind most of my favorite songs from previous releases (“Bones Of An Idol,” “Failsafe”). A stronger showing from Case would’ve made Brill Bruisers rival Twin Cinema as centerpieces of The New Pornographers’ catalog. That being said it’s still well worth your time and money to catch up with some old (or new) friends.
Key Tracks: “Brill Bruisers” / “Spidyr” / “You Tell Me Where”
Artists With Similar Fire: A.C. Newman / Neko Case / Destroyer