The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

c0c1c6baRating: ★★★½☆

When it comes to indie rock super groups, you really can’t beat the likes of The New Pornographers. Making music together since 1999, this Canadian band consists of the best of the best, each of which have their own successful career be it alone or with another band. There’s Carl “A.C” Newman, Dan Bejar, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder, just to name off a few, but let’s be honest: you should probably know who this band is as they’ve been around for longer than a decade and Brill Bruisers makes for their sixth full length release. Though it is sixth in a line of solid releases, by no means does it feel trite or banal—The New Pornographers have managed to do it once again.

With a band that is a culmination of so many great individual artists, I’m always flummoxed as to how this group can create a cohesive sound for their group. Sure, different artists take the lead on a track-to-track basis, incorporating their own styles, but Brill Bruisers manages to come together fairly easily. From opening title track to the last and glittering “You Tell Me Where,” the group hits their stride multiple times and gives you some great tunes.

I think it partially depends on which lead vocalist you like the best that will leads you to your favorite numbers. There’s Newman’s opening “Brill Bruisers,” which kicks the album off en medias res with the groups shimmery indie rock; the percussion is essentially all cymbal, the guitars’ blend in with the mix, synthesizers wander around through the song and the vocals of Newman lead you fearlessly through these airy walls of sound. Of course, he’s not alone, you get a lot of gang vocals singing back up through the whole song, which gives it an even lighter, poppier feeling. Later on you get Bejar’s unmistakable warbling vocals up to bat on “War On The East Coast,” which happens to be my favorite track on the record. The track seemingly makes comment on today’s general feeling of chaos and disarray—“look what we’re living in.” While the track rages on in full fury of to a build at the end, the choral hook has Bejar crooning “Oh, I don’t care, I don’t care,” making you want to scream right along with him, even if the sentiment is apathy, it’s still relatable. However, it’s not just the tracks with an outright lead vocal that will get you falling for them. On the contrary, “Fantasy Fools,” has a shared lead vocal that elbows its way into your list of highlights as well.

Though there’s a lot to love on Brill Bruisers, for me the album doesn’t go above and beyond to give you a sound that you want to sing to the world about. Sure, you’ll come back and jam with this group of lovable indie-poppers now and again, but there’s just a little bit missing from this release to push it to the next level.

AC Newman – Shut Down the Streets


Rating: ★★★★☆

I know that through his association with The New Pornographers AC Newman often gets stuck in that middling ground between Neko Case and Dan Bejar, but his third solo effort, Shut Down the Streets, is a statement of sorts.  It demonstrates his knack for writing incredible pop songs with lush arrangements, built for longevity in your record collection.

“I’m Not Talking” threw me at first, opening with a few electronic flourishes before the guitar and the rest of the lush orchestration joins in.  It all builds brilliantly, making way for AC Newman‘s voice, accompanied by Neko, to resonate with the listener.  There’s something about listening to that distinctive voice that makes his songs so familiar, but even when the vocals subside, there’s beautiful music in between, which demonstrates the progress he’s made on this effort. In the past, his voice has really stuck out as the sole instrument on his solo recordings, but much care has been placed on the construction and arrangements of these tracks.  “There’s Money in New Wave,” might sound mostly like a guitar strummed ballad, but tiny touches of percussion and string accents bring out the best in this song, making it more than your standard fare.  Oh, and the high pitch of his voice always warms my heart.

But, I can see a lot of people saying that Shut Down the Streets is marked too much by the influence of Newman at the moment of writing this record, himself citing psychedelic-era singer-songwriters.  With that being an obvious influence, I think it actually crafts a broader sound that benefits both the album and the listener.  In the past, there’s always been that difficulty of escaping your main gig, or side gig (whatever he prefers to call it nowadays), with many songs seemingly coming across as polished demos for New Pornos. You won’t get that when you listen to a song like “You Could Get Lost Out Here,” which is an expansive song that unfolds at the typical pace, though brimming with twinkling electronics, eclectic percussive moments and quieted guitar picking.  It’s like AC’s fronting the soundtrack to Peter and the Wolf…with more pop sensibility of course!

Still, if you’re a true AC Newman fan you’ll find heaven in songs like “Wasted English,” a tune that features more vocal accompaniment from Case.  It’s got an accordion that serves as the main backbone here, rather than the guitar, which is present, though distant.  Or you might enjoy “Hostages” for its bounce and spirit, and again, Neko’s appearance. You see, I think he’s always had these tracks inside, but he just need a little help finding a new way to flesh the songs out.  For the most part, Shut Down the Streets is very much what you’d expect from Mr. Newman, filled with splendid melodies/strong ballads, yet he’s differentiated himself slightly.  He’s added a more complete sound by throwing in all the accompaniment at his disposal, filling out an album that’s both warm and rewarding, listen after listen. Surely his best to date.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/a_c_newman_not_talking.mp3]

Download:AC Newman – I’m Not Talking [MP3]

Shut Down the Streets is available now from Matador Records.

New Music from Kathryn Calder

It doesn’t seem like too long ago that Kathryn Calder burst onto the scene once she joined up with the New Pornographers.  But, while that might be her staple, she’s been slowly crafting her own career on the side, releasing a record last year, and prepping a new one for the month of October.  This record’s going to be called, Bright and Vivid, and based on this first single, there’s a bit of a different approach to her writing.  Yes, those great vocals you expect from her are there, but there’s definitely some programmable beats being used here, giving Calder a bit of punch to her pop du jour.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/kathryn_calder-who_are_you_.mp3]

Download: Kathryn Calder – Who Are You [MP3]

New Tunes from Kathryn Calder

The ridiculously beautiful Kathryn Calder of New Pornographers is at it again.  She’s just released her second single from her debut album, Are You My Mother, which comes out on August 10th.  It’s a gentle ballad with the focus on piano playing.  Something in her vocal delivery reminds me of a young Jenny Lewis, and you know that can’t be a bad thing by any means.  Make sure to give this plenty of spins today, as its well worth your time.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Kcalder-Arrow.mp3]

Download: Kathryn Calder – Arrow [MP3]

The New Pornographers – Together

Rating: ★★★★☆

After the release of Challengers it seemed like people were ready to disregard The New Pornographers altogether.  Poor reviews for an album couldn’t keep this band down though, as they’ve returned with their fifth record, Together. It stands in the same ground as a great deal of the rest of the last record, but it pushes the rock element a little bit further, brightening the sound a bit, just making things louder overall.

Opening moments on “Move” have that shredded guitar sound you’ve come to expect from an AC Newman penned song, but with a little strings to match the top of it all.  Throw in the bounce and those pop-perfect vocals (girl harmonies thrown in for good measure) and you’ve got a great opening track.  But, you get the perfect mix when you move into the next tune, “Crash Years.”  It’s fronted by the female force this time around, though the jangly guitars and orchestral accompaniment aren’t anything to shake a stick at.  Then you find yourself at “Your Hands (Together),” finding the band employing all their old tricks.  A rolling drumbeat, guitars strumming off beat, and the combination of male/female vocals.  Together starts out great, and it doesn’t seem to slow down.

However, the band switch gears a bit by going to a Dan Bejar penned number.  He’s written three songs for this record, and each one is remarkable in its own right.  Not sure if it’s Bejar’s odd vocal delivery, or just his craftsmanship, but his songs always stand out in The New Pornographers sound.  “If You Can’t See  My Mirrors” is probably the best of the three Bejar tracks, using some brilliant swirling guitar melodies to balance out Dan’s vocals.  The light female vocal beneath his adds a perfect touch as well.  Don’t skip out on “Daughter of Sorrow” as it’s reminiscent of Dan’s work with Destroyer, but instead of him working solo, he uses the posse at hand to expand his own distinctive sound.

While the album does slow down a bit right in the middle, it’s not entirely a detractor.  Perhaps the sequencing comes as a bit of a shock, as you can find better places to fit these quieter moments, but “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” and “My Shepard” showcase the band’s ace in the hole.  Female vocals have long been a part of the groups dynamic, and they come into perfect play in the middle of this album.  Fans of Neko Case and Kathryn Calder will appreciate the fact that the girls get to carry their own weight for a sustained period of time.

One of the strengths of the band, and Together, is that they seem to have returned to uniting all their forces into one cohesive product.  “Up in the Dark” is a powerful song, using the dual vocal approach, and a stomping rhythm to move it along. Even when the song takes turns for the swirly pop moments, you can’t help but feel that this is the band at its best.  While “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” might seem a bit odd, really just using the vocal approach of the band to make its point, it really is a good song, though it might not fit that well with this collection.  So they close it with “We End Up Together,” making the perfect statement for the album’s closing.  Everyone seems to play a part in this song, fitting the whole band, well, “together.”  Seeing such sentiment makes you appreciate the effort on Together all the more, and it demonstrates to us all that as long as The New Pornographers put in all the pieces, they can create great records just like the one we find here.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/new_pornographers_your_hands_together.mp3]

Download: New Pornographers – Your Hands Together [MP3]