BY EMMA GASE
Daily Arts Writer
Published May 3, 2010
Finally, everyone’s favorite Canadian supergroup is back (and no, it’s not Broken Social Scene). After a three-year-long gap, the New Pornographers return with Together, their most recent effort since 2007’s lukewarm Challengers. Spearheaded by brainchild A.C. Newman and backed up by alt-country queen Neko Case and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, the band members combine to create the perfect amalgamation of pop (Newman), weird (Bejar) and vocal awesomeness (Case). Together stays true to the band’s formula: A majority of the tracks are Newman’s, with a few of Bejar’s darker pop ditties tossed in and Case’s requisite ballads to showcase her pipes. And, as usual, it works like a charm.
The New Pornographers
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The album leads off with the polished but punchy “Moves.” The orchestration in “Moves,” specifically the fuzzed-out cello riff that drives the song, has A.C. Newman circa The Slow Wonder written all over it. A jaunty piano and Case’s harmony add some diversity, making it sound like a New Pornographers song instead of a Newman solo effort. The band’s classic and nearly patented reprise with intertwining harmonies ends “Moves” on a high note.
Case, whose voice has been likened by many publications to a “force of nature,” shows up on a smaller scale on “My Shepherd.” Though in possession of the strongest vocals in the group (and one half of the band’s red hair), here she croons rather than belts, “If I’m honest, you come to mind / But baby, I’m not.” This uncharacteristic modesty may allow for appreciation of the song’s arrangement rather than blind worship of her voice, but it’s still easy to long for the straightforward showing off of “All for Swinging You Around” on 2003’s Electric Version. Even so, Case stills allures with her siren quality, especially when she slips effortlessly into French.
Bejar, the strangest and darkest component of the New Pornographers, makes his first appearance with “Silver Jenny Dollar.” Though he doesn’t usually tour with band, his songs are always highlights. “Silver Jenny Dollar” is an unusually sunny song for Bejar, with a chorus reinforced by sprightly calls of “Whoa whoa whoa.” Bejar’s unorthodox, nasally voice compounded with Case’s is always a winning combination, especially on his other track, “If You Can’t See My Mirrors.”
Perhaps the best thing about the New Pornographers is its unique blend. No song sounds exactly like a Neko Case song, or a Destroyer song, or even completely like an A.C. Newman one. There is something purely New Pornographers-like about every track — the band's sound could only ever be attributed as a collective.
Already a sizable group, the band had some guests in the studio during the making of Together. The Dap-Kings contributed horns for some quality ambiance, Annie Clark of St. Vincent donated a slick guitar solo, and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff added his vocals. Instead of sounding jumbled or overproduced, a balance is somehow struck, and Together emerges triumphant.
Together may not hold the raw direct power that is Twin Cinema or Electric Version due to its increased reliance on string orchestration, but it doesn’t try to. This is a different New Pornographers, matured and hopeful, evolving its sound rather than resting on its considerably catchy laurels. If there is one criticism of Together, it's the lack of a central, awe-inspiring, larger-than-life anthem á la “Sing Me Spanish Techno” or “Bleeding Heart Show.” But with a single like “The Crash Years,” Together gets pretty darn close.