The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic (2000)

Insanely infectious harmonies soaring over raucous jangly guitars, Beach Boys melodies swirling above Beatles-influenced pop band arrangements, sharp and catchy angular Cheap Trick riffs and indie power pop garage thump.  God damn, this album is joyous!

When I first saw Canadian “pop supergroup” The New Pornographers live back in 2008 I’d only heard their most recent album, Challengers.  Yet, still, all through a gig that spanned material new and old there was a surfeit of hooks, of melodies that grabbed you into singing along to a chorus you hadn’t heard before that moment.

Simply great pop music, played with skills, smarts and a whole lot of talent. And it’s all here, on their Mass Romantic, their debut album.

Sure, it isn’t perfect.  Maybe too many ideas, maybe not enough bass and depth to the production, maybe a bit thin.  But that’s all easy to shove to one side when song after song drenches you in such addictive hooks, strung and sung over the top of a huge, bright, fun slab of jangling indie pop.

A bit of 60s organ, a bit of sax, and a lot of harmonies lay the whole thing out nicely, while the lyrics are as ridiculous and melodramatic as they need to be to build the songs to climactic choruses.  Burt Bacharach by way of The Pixies.

The entire band sings, each bringing their own unique tone (culminating with them all singing “so give us the keys now, we’ll burn this hall of justice down!” at the end of the album. There’s Neko Case with her brassy soaring siren call, Carl Newman with his slightly off-sweet voice and Dan Bejar‘s knowingly smirking tones all expressing something different, but all clearly sounding like they all mean what they sing – and enjoy singing it.

Power pop at its best, and giving big strong hints towards the more layered and baroque pop this band would head towards over later albums.  While showing how rooted they were in the guitar-bass-drums-keyboard-vocals root of all the best pop music.

Listen, and smile.

Beer match:  I really want a beer… today’s the last day of my belated, broken Feb Fast.  What do I want?  A Rex Attitude?   But, that’s by-the-by.  What would I be drinking, if I was to be drinking a beer while listening to this album as I write this post.   Ahh, shit, yeah, it’d be the Rex…  But, if you’re not me, I’d want to match this beer with something bright and joyful.  Sounds like a ParrotDog BitterBitch to me!

…now I really want a BitterBitch.

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (2013)

Cover art from Anti Records. Click on image to go to site.

I remember when I first heard Neko CaseThe Rough Guide to Americana, a Rough Guide compilation I’d bought in 2001 to help me expand my knowledge of alternative country, a genre I was just starting to explore.  Track 3, Neko Case & Her Boyfriends “Guided By Wire.”

Case’s pure country voice was instantly arresting. High and taut, with the dust of the prairie and a twang in the tail. The song was sung of hearing voices and struggling with mental illness, and with rough-edged guitar and an endearing single-take feel it became a quick favourite.

It sent me out to track down as many albums as I could, falling more and more in love with her songs and her voice with each purchase.

And to tell as many people as I could about her.  That’s a particular joy, discovering and falling in love with some new artist or album – or beer or bar – and seeing others discover them and their popularity grow.[1]

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