Since encountering them via the linkage with frequent vocalist Neko Case, Canadian indie power-popsters The New Pornographers have been an firm favourite of mine. But, that said, I wasn’t much of a fan of The New Pornographers’ 2010 album Together. It was okay, I guess, but I found the songs an odd combination of too cutesy yet also too long. It didn’t hold my attention, and I’ve barely played it since it was released, while the rest of the band’s back catalogue still gets lots of playtime.
When word of a new album by A.C. Newman and his talented offsiders emerged earlier this year, I didn’t give it too much thought. I knew I’d check Brill Bruisers out, inevitably, but there was no sense of “must have”, no excitement from me.
Until I saw the video for ‘War on the East Coast’. Then I got excited.
The single-take video is masterful. Smart, entertaining, and funny, abounding with sly jokes of a very-Canadian post-apocalypse, matching the lyrical wit of the song. (One in-joke is that the writer/singer of the song, Dan Bejar, isn’t the one singing in the video – that’s A.C. Newman, while Bejar’s the hairy guy walking alongside him.)
Then there’s the music; the chugging, propulsive guitar, the hugely catchy chorus, the effervescent keyboards, the smart-and-poppy danceability of it all. It promised good things of the album.
And the album delivers. With Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers have hooked into a keyboard heavy pop sound full of hints of some of the best smart pop music of the late 70s on. New Wave and Britpop elements spring forth as a natural consequence of songs that revolve around strong, catchy keyboard parts above an anchor of bright rhythm guitar, while the drums lay down a danceable foundation with clever little syncopated fills making your hips twitch.
Above, gorgeous vocal harmonies lay down the chorus after hooky chorus, the band’s many talented vocalists (not just Newman, Case and Bejar – all the band sing, keyboardist Kathryn Calder in particular providing crucial backing vocals on most tracks) all on top form communicating the band’s usual lyrical theme of the oddness of being, well, working musicians.
Brill Bruisers provides superb power pop, taking music that could be a bit old fashioned, and instead fashion something entirely contemporary. Unique, yet through the magic of the structure of the pop song, instantly familiar.
A joyful chorus of vocals kicks the album off with the title track, giving more than a little hint of the pop-history this album’s mining with a reference to the Brill Building song-factory. And the joy, the sound of celebration continues throughout, through songs with just enough variation in tempo, length and theme to keep the ear interested through repeated plays.
But again, as I listen to the album, it’s the keyboards provided by Calder and Blaine Thurier that catch and entice. Moved right to the front of the mix, throbbing, swirling, hooking in with sounds both bright and rhythmic, the keyboard parts (and, beneath them, the jagged guitar) anchor Brill Bruisers into an almost synth-pop sound. But not the moody, dark synth-pop that has been delved into by a few indie bands of late; here The New Pornographers are using the timbre and brightness to bring a smile, to get you dancing. Culminating with ‘You Tell Me Where’, the album’s closing track that hangs one of the most catchy choruses you’ll ever hear over the power-pop keyboards that characterised the last few albums from The Who.
It’s a pure pop head rush, timelessly contemporary, and might be one of my favourite albums of 2014.
Beer match: Bright, bubbly, but a lot smarter than it may appear at first glance. Just like the Garage Project Hapi Daze I wrote about not too long ago.