The New Pornographers
Sun Sept 25
128 NE Russell
The New Pornographers' frontman Carl Newman has a lingering bone to pick with the '90s cocktail culture revivalists. "It always sort of annoyed me during the lounge craze that people would get into Burt Bacharach because it was [perceived] as cheesy," he says. "He wasn't cheesy and he wasn't great because he came from an era of swinging cocktail parties—he was great because his songs were musically just stunning."
Such a passionate defense of a progressive artist from the early pop canon is understandable once you spend a little time digesting the Pornographers' latest cerebral, celebratory pop confection, Twin Cinema (Matador). Mistaking kitsch for methodical innovation is bound to rile the mastermind behind Canada's sparkling ensemble of perfectionist players. Since 2000, when they released their automatically infectious debut—aptly entitled Mass Romantic—the all-star collective of Newman (formerly of Zumpano), the Evaporators' John Collins, Destroyer's Dan Bejar, Kurt Dahle (formerly of Limblifter), and Americana sweetheart Neko Case have made a second name for themselves as good-humored purveyors of gorgeous, technically precise power pop.
Mass Romantic won fans out of the gate, thanks to a relentlessly hooky title track and a near Jedi-like approach to their instruments. Not that they sound like prog-rocking nerds, but the musicianship on that record and its follow-up, Electric Version, consistently draws accolades from the most jaded musicians and critics. Whether they're simply blowing the doors off a classic 4/4 structure or turning a seemingly pedestrian pop construct inside out, the band is an Olympic-caliber example of what can happen when the players in the studio are at the top of their games. Even more impressive is that it never sounds like a war of egos.
"It's definitely collaborative," ruminates Newman via phone. "Sometimes I make veto decisions and decide what goes or stays, but I don't think I'm ever doing it in any kind of showboating way. We're always just looking out for the song. I think we're all sort of students of song craft—we know what the good records sound like and we want to make good records too."
The band came together via Newman's drive to put together a quality pop-rock group of his peers (the collective also includes a handful of other talented Canadians too numerous to list). "I just wanted to assemble a group of people that I thought were really, really good," he recalls. The success of Mass Romantic may have been startling, but it was Electric Version that really established the Pornographers as a supergroup with staying power, selling more than 80,000 copies to date—an impressive feat for a band that has (up until now) been seemingly ambivalent about rigorous touring. Newman has set a much more aggressive agenda to support Twin Cinema. "We've realized that it's ridiculous for us to not tour a lot; our records sell a lot. Electric Version sold [so well] and yet we didn't tour. It just makes you think, 'What would happen if we were a band that was regularly touring?'"