My first introduction to The New Pornographers was the song “Challengers” — a simple tasteful number led by feathery vocals from Neko Case and a stripped-down acoustic rhythm. Having listened to releases both preceding and following Challengers in 2007, you can imagine the kind of surprise I felt when I found the eclectic range of sounds that the supergroup have showcased through the years. Tracking back to their founding period in 1999, the twist and turns in the group’s sound have certainly played a significant part in their relevancy at the heart of the indie rock scene. Essentially, it had always been their uncanny ability to repeatedly capitalize on the catchiness of power pop and the pure unadulterated climaxes of the rock genre that gave them their timeless sound. I mean – how many bands can truly claim that they have stayed relevant for a grand total of sixteen years? Not many, I’d say. While some may argue that the group’s popularity has been somewhat supported by individual achievements outside of the TNP label, there’s no denying that their sound is unique and obviously appealing in its own right.
Reminiscing aside, we now welcome their sixth and latest release, Brill Bruisers. Since the formation of the band, their idiosyncratic perception of music has always stood out, and is something that has definitely grown both in depth and experimentation, especially so now. With a bombastic touch to their signature style that is perhaps only paralleled by bands such as the Dave Matthews Band (although they vastly differ in genre), The New Pornographers have crafted an approach that is not only sophisticated, but also uncanny in both delivery and production. While one can indeed say that the band has come full circle with their latest effort in light of their debut Mass Romantic, a certain futuristic mindset is taken here as we hear more electronic waves pumping through the jam-packed myriad of sounds.
Prior to its release, leader A.C. Newman described Brill Bruisers as a “celebration record”, and the title track delivers no less than that. Opening the album on a high note, The New Pornographers make a statement on their brand of power pop as they grab you on this thirteen-track roller coaster. With a ringing chorus and their straight-in-your-face approach, we are reminded of the level of musicality and creativity oozing from these veterans despite a three-year absence, not forgetting the talent they have at their disposal. “Brill Bruisers” is almost like a throwback to vintage rock, but with a modern twist of energy – no less than what we would expect from the supergroup.
Following the same formula are “Fantasy Fools” and “Dancehall Domine” as they look to throw you off your seat with their bigger-than-life sound from the opening second. With the expectation of a “celebration record”, we definitely find that element here with throwbacks to the new wave vibes of the ’80s. The New Pornographers lead us on high-energy adventures, overwhelmed with catchy melodies, infectious dance-influenced beats, and even chorus effects. The latter even sees the band transit into a semi-psychedelic kind of breakdown in the middle as they experiment with different sonic textures to create a new dynamic level to their sound.
With the use of electronic tones growing increasingly prominent with each track, it has become the most suited example of the band’s progress and evolution since their last outing. “Champions Of Red Wine” is perfect evidence of this advancement, and is almost flawless in its arrangement and vocal layering. The smooth space vibes emanating from the track blend nicely with the light touch-and-go electronic phrasings, making the eclectic track one of the most enjoyable out of all. We hear more of this on tracks like “War On the East Coast” as the band goes back to the roots of rock music with aggressive guitar-playing, while paired with fast-paced arcade-like sounds. “Backstairs” utilizes a similar approach, but is instead characterized by the unique touch of warped vocals and thick synths pumping throughout.
However, the formula does get repetitive on several tracks despite their brilliant potential. “Another Drug Deal Of The Heart” is filled with the same synthetic tones and swirling mix of vocals we have grown to love, but instead fails to excite or explode. On the other hand, “Hi-Rise” presents a rather unorthodox approach with even more arcade-like touches throughout the song, to the point where it is almost overused. While it is certainly ‘experimental’ in the most fundamental form of the adjective, it lacks the tasteful touch that the veterans display on other tracks.
Despite all that, one of the standouts on the album has to be the energetic number “You Tell Me Where” as the band sets out to catch us off-guard with their unconventional selection of chords and tones. We hear the ideal blend of electronica and indie rock here, befitting for a satisfying album closer in which they have strived towards perfecting this approach. As A.C. Newman and the rest of the group sing “You tell me where to be / I’ll be there”, we hear a culmination of their efforts as they become “celebratory” in every sense of the word.
All in all, Brill Bruisers has proven to a rather comprehensive effort from the band. Having observed a general progression towards a new sound, tracks like “Wide Eyes” still prove that their old styles are still intact with acoustic strums and feel-good vibes, while “Spidyr” pushes the boundaries by pairing space-driven synths and harmonica playing. The New Pornographers have put forth a record that showcases a new level of interplay between each member that goes beyond just their singers, proving that it is more than just “celebratory” as described by Newman before its release. These guys here know exactly what they’re doing, and they do it pretty damn well.