The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Brill BruisersWhat a difference a good single, with a good video can make, eh?

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.

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.