[Album Review] The New Pornographers- Whiteout Conditions
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Release Date: April 7, 2017
Label: Concord/Dine Alone Records

Every time The New Pornographers finish with an album and then go their separate ways the same questions arise. Will they ever get back together this time? With them all having solo careers why would they even bother? To the first question: yes. To the second: all you have to do is take one listen to ‘Whiteout Conditions’ and you have your answer.

Yes, despite the heft of their individual talents (AC Newman, Kathryn Calder, Neko Case, just to name just a few) there is still an even greater artistic presence when these seven musicians get together (unfortunately, this time out Dan Bejar is absent). It may sound trite to say that the air crackles with their collective creative energy, but heck this record does bristle with electricity. In fact, it’s more poppy, alive and direct than even 2014’s ‘Brill Bruisers’.

The voices of Newman, Calder and Case have never sounded better together. When it comes to harmonies, Calder’s lark-like vocals really stand out, but when it comes to lead vocals, frankly they have never in their entire history made better use of Case’s incredible pipes.

Granted, their music is not as challenging to the listener as it was, say, a decade ago, but that isn’t because they are going for commercial appeal (ha!) or doing what comes easiest. After nearly 20 years they have nothing to prove, and sometimes that means you don’t have to throw a brick through a window to show that you’re avant or artsy or just damn cool. Songs like “High Ticket Attractions” and “Clockwise” are certainly accessible high-energy pop, but they are also wonderfully crafted, with delicious harmonies and some fun synth work. Elsewhere things may not be quite as radio-friendly but still very approachable. “Darling Shade” is a noisy and oddly paced number punctuated with shards of electric guitar, while “Second Sleep” is a frenetically paced electronic popper that starts to get a little strange as Newman’s voice drones repetitively.

The album’s finest hour arguably comes with the title track. “Whiteout Conditions” has a kind of ‘80s New Wave energy to it, even though if anything it’s modern indie. In the singing department things alternate between Newman solo and Calder/Case in harmony, which offers a completely different perspective on the song every time they switch. And, yes, below the surface of normalcy there is their quirkiness.

Indeed The New Pornographers remain as essentially quirky as ever and yet somehow still produce their most broadly appealing album to date. This album will please many new ears but not at the expense of losing old ones because TNP really haven’t compromised anything at all.