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The New Pornographers

Together


[Matador; 2010]



By ; May 3, 2010 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

A brief contextual introduction for the uninitiated: the New Pornographers are an indie “supergroup”, led by Carl “A.C.” Newman, and featuring alt-country siren Neko Case and Destroyer’s Daniel Bejar. The three primary members, as solo artists or within other bands, have released in excess of twenty studio albums between them, and Together marks their fifth full-length collaboration over a ten year period. The group’s 2000 debut, Mass Romantic, was adored by fans and critics alike and a decade later is generally regarded as one of the finest “indie” albums of all-time. Their winning streak continued throughout the first half of the noughties, but by the release of 2007’s “Challengers” the cracks were starting to show; touring was difficult due to conflicting schedules, solo projects took priority, auxiliary members were drafted in. Whatever the reasons, the songs just weren’t up to scratch. Thankfully, Together sees the band reconvene in triumphant style.

Opener “Moves” kicks off proceedings with stately cello before erupting into a monstrous groove built around a simple three-note piano riff reminiscent of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks.” Neko takes the lead on the following, similarly string-assisted “Crash Years,” before the lurching stop-start juggernaut “Your Hands (Together)” rounds off one of the strongest opening sequences committed to record so far this year. Newman is back on his song-writing A-game here, on positively joyous form compared to the lacklustre Challengers, and the addition of strings, as well as horns elsewhere courtesy of Sharon Jones’ Dap-Kings, seems like a natural progression of the experimental stylings of his last solo album, 2009’s Get Guilty.

Dan Bejar’s “Silver Jenny Dollar,” the first of his traditional three contributions, is another highlight, a breezy jaunt through some typically obtuse imagery and probably his finest Pornographers song since 2003’s “Electric Version”. Of his other tracks, “If You Can’t See My Mirrors” bowls along like an outtake from Love’s Forever Changes, whilst “Daughters Of Sorrow,” with its swaying “bah-bah-bah” chorus most closely echoes his Rubies-era Destroyer work. Sitting as the album’s penultimate number, one can’t help but feel that if allowed to swell just a little longer, it would have made a more fitting finale than the chosen, slightly underwhelming closer “We End Up Together.”

The glam-rock influence that has always flavoured the band’s output is still present in the likes of “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” album highlight “Up In The Dark”, and the stomping “Bite Out Of My Bed”, and Case’s increased presence is most welcome (she sings lead or dual lead on half of the songs here). Her voice, often backed by her live stand-in Kathryn Calder, blends smoothly with Newman’s and adds a new twist to Bejar’s tracks. The only real misfire is “Valkyrie In The Roller Disco,” a synthetic prog waltz that boils up slowly but never really catches light. Throughout the album the band- eight members strong plus help- handle Newman’s complex musical arrangements with such ease as to render the guest players (Will Sheff, Annie Clark, Zach Condon) irrelevant. Newman’s writing is back on track and his perfectionist approach to production has resulted in a full, powerful sound that’s as impressive as the song-craft on offer. Together is a real return to form, and given the numerous disappointments of the year thus far, this is one comeback worth celebrating.


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