[Album Review] The New Pornographers- Brill Bruisers
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by Mark Anthony Brennan
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Release Date: August 26th, 2014
Label: Matador/Last Gang

Of the two major critics’ darlings in Canadian contemporary music Arcade Fire are the ones for whom indie weirdness comes so naturally that it’s a struggle for them to rein it all in and present something listenable. Their West Coast counterparts, The New Pornographers, on the other hand, could rattle off enjoyable power pop in their sleep (and maybe they do), and so you would swear they deliberately go out of their way to sound “difficult” in order to ensure that they are taken seriously. However, after kicking around for about 15 years TNP are at a point in their musical lives where they no longer seem to care whether they are taken seriously or not. On ‘Brill Bruisers’ everything sounds more effortless, without any obvious attempts at pretension (gone, for example, are the head-scratchingly obscure song titles). The resulting product exhibits more exuberance and cohesion than we’ve heard since the band’s early days.

The title track opens up the album and exemplifies it to a tee. “Brill Bruisers” is an energetic exercise in contemporary indie pop but with some ’60’s-style “ooh and aah” harmonies and ’80’s-style synths thrown in. The focus here, as with the rest of the album, is outward rather than inward, giving you the distinct impression that these guys could be as much fun on stage as, say, the Arcade Fire. 

Other highlights include the lively synth pop number “Dancehall Dominie” and the lovely “Champions of Red Wine”, which recalls the heyday of the New Romantics movement. However, the album’s true standout must be “War on the East Coast”, which manages to sum up just about everything that we’ve come to love about TNP. Muscular guitar chugging is set against a rich power pop groove and all the while Dan Bejar croons languidly about something that we can’t quite understand but we know it’s important. (As an amusing aside, in the Rolling Stone review of the album they make reference to a dream about a woman drowning. I guess being American they can be forgiven for not realizing that Victoria is a city in BC, not a girl’s name). 

Even though Newman, Bejar, Neko Case and Kathryn Calder all lend their distinctive voices to the mix as usual, it is the rhythm section and accompanying leopards that take centre stage here. It’s a case of music first and singers second, a commitment to unity within the band the likes of which we may have never witnessed before. In the past TNP may have sounded like the amalgam of several individual talents, but that is far from the case here.

With every band member having solo careers or other musical projects they are involved in, it is tempting to question why they would even bother pulling this old warhorse out of mothballs after a four year absence. ‘Brill Bruisers’ provides the triumphant response – The New Pornographers as a unit has a synergy of its own and it is a magical sound that the world deserves to hear. TNP also prove to themselves that they don’t have be painfully self-conscious to gain respect – their carefree approach here results in one of their best albums ever and it is more than commendable for its sheer craftsmanship.