Patience. Precision. Polish. These are not favorable words in the indie-rock lexicon. In fact, more often than not, they're just code language for "older," "duller" and "uncool." That the New Pornographers are encountering such snarky criticisms of their fifth album, Together, should come as little surprise. Among the mostly Canadian group's core members, Carl Newman is now 42, Neko Case, 39 and Dan Bejar, 38 — making them all roughly twice the age of Brooklyn's various bourgeois hipster rockers of the moment. Toss in the Pornographers' shared admiration for the slickly produced sounds of the '70s (Newman cites both Led Zeppelin and ABBA as key influences on his new material), and the disconnect becomes clearer. Despite the Matador label and cameo appearances from the likes of Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and Zach Condon (Beirut), Together is really an indie-rock album in name only. This, more accurately, is pop music — in the most unapologetic, Fleetwood Mac-ian expression of the term.
Matador Records is describing Together as a combination of "the freewheeling, glammy spirit of Mass Romantic" and "the very personal, emotional songwriting of the NPs' most recent material." While this is genius, grab-all marketing copy, the nod to the New Pornographers' beloved debut album, released in 2000, is a bit of a reach.
Like many near-perfect albums, Mass Romantic was the result of a lot of young, budding talent collaborating without pretense — or even a plan — at the right time and place. Carl Newman, on what would prove to be a permanent hiatus from his Sub Pop band Zumpano, basically spent a couple years jamming with his fellow Vancouver-based friends, including John Collins of Thee Evaporators, Bejar from Destroyer, Kurt Dahle of Limblifter, and eventually, the American transplant and upstart country crooner Neko Case. On a low budget, with more adrenalin than studio tricks, they managed to make a killer power-pop album, elevated quickly into cult classic status by the subsequent blossoming of Bejar, Newman and particularly Case's solo careers. In an odd way, the New Pornographers had become a supergroup sort of retroactively.
By contrast, Together (which charted at a career-best No. 18 on the Billboard Top 200) is the full realization of the NPs as a collection of noted and respected stars — rather than a rag tag gang of Canucks on their way to greater heights. Even in comparison to the band's gradually more refined middle albums — Electric Version (2003), Twin Cinema (2005), and the sometimes-meandering Challengers (2007) — this is their most "adult" affair. And no, that's not a bad thing. Just a different thing.
"Crash Years," for example, is a damn catchy song, but it's very much in the vein of a George Harrison single circa 1987. "Daughters of Sorrow," with Bejar at the helm, has a definite 5th Dimension vibe to it. And then there's arguably the best song on the album, the Case-sung "My Shepherd." It's a slow-burning anthem not too dissimilar from past NP classics like "The Bleeding Heart Show," and like so many of Newman's compositions, it's structurally flawless. There is a sort of formality to it, though, that might just be an unavoidable consequence of becoming too good at what you do — too refined, too spot-on.
Once upon a time, "Letter From an Occupant" was the New Pornographers' trademark track — a three-minute, super-up-tempo joyride penned by Newman, sung by Case and played with enough exuberance to make it sound like the song's seams were going to burst. It was far from pretentious or experimental, but it did have a rawness and immediacy to it that won the hearts of hipsters and pop kids alike. Together doesn't offer anything like that, but it would probably be unfair and silly to expect it to. Matador could have simply said, "The New Pornographers won't be making Mass Romantic again, but they have recorded 12 more really good pop songs that pretty much nobody could dislike, so enjoy!"
We covered this. He is talented.
Does puke come in piles?
It's not because he's black, altho his being black & throwing it in our face…
Guys it's because he's black.
Damn good band. Wish they'd release that mashup as an mp3 or something, it's cool.