Best albums of 2007: #2 The New Pornographers “Challengers”

So The New Pornographers have hit these pages a few times in this blog’s inaugural year. The Canadian indie power pop supergroup is a great band that has defied the odds and last for well over the predicted one or two albums. In fact, “Challengers” is the group’s fourth album and have since come up with three more since 2007.

This album was a bit challenging (pardon the pun) for the group’s long time fans because there was less power in the pop here. All the other elements we have grown to love, the big and interesting instrumentation and arrangements, the turn taking and melodies on vocals by all four principal vocalists, and the way the different elements come together so cohesively are still prominent but just muted. For some, this meant requiring more listens to accept the new record but I had no issues at all.

For me, “Challengers” was love on first listen. Interesting, then, that many critics considered this more the natural sequel to AC Newman’s quiet debut, “The slow wonder”, an album I didn’t much care for, rather than the bombast of The New Pornos’ third record, “Twin cinema”. I thought the toned down approach allowed for the all the pieces room to grow and the results were quite stunning. I don’t know if it’s fair to call this my all time favourite of their albums, given that they are so consistently good, but it just might be.

If you’re not familiar with this stellar group or just this album (or even if you are), have a peek at my three picks for you below and let me know what you think.


“Mutiny, I promise you”: I’m not sure I know what this song’s all about but I just love the idea of promising a mutiny, usurping the captain on the high seas like a pirate. And not just warning in advance but promising it. The song is one of the more upbeat and energetic of the bunch on “Challengers”. It’s like all the instruments are turned up to eleven and their players are at them like crazy. The vocals, too, gang-like, are almost an all out shout, except they’re so beautifully harmonized between Newman and Kathryn Calder. And when they briefly pause their playing to sing “And here is the mutiny I promised you” at the bridge, it’s oh so sweet.

“Myriad Harbour”: This is easily my favourite Dan Bejar penned and sung track. He is so weird but on this track, it works. His almost whiny voice is singing conversationally, for some reason, reminding me of Lou Reed, and he’s glorifying Manhattan too, which is perfect. “Stranded at Bleeker and Broadway, looking for something to do.” The way the guitar climbs up and down, Bejar rejoins and the rest of the band responds, the harmonica flourishes, it all just makes me smile, over and over again.

“All the old showstoppers”: That Carl Newman, he’s quite the lyricist. His songs are rife with wordplay that twist and turn our normal ideas and always leave things open to interpretation. I’ve tried to untangle this one, the meaning seemingly just there beyond reach, but I’ve decided to give it up and just enjoy the tune. And “All the old showstoppers” is a fun one. A verse melody that feels very mechanical while Newman sings a call and answer with Neko Case and Calder. It all comes together joyously for the chorus though, instruments and voices in one sweet harmony.


For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.

Best tunes of 2010: #6 The New Pornographers “Crash years”

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Here we are at number six on this Best tunes of 2010 list and we have the second appearance by The New Pornographers, who we saw months ago at the number twenty-eight spot with “Sweet talk, sweet talk”. Both that song and this one, “Crash years”, appeared on the New Pornos fifth studio album, “Together”, which was dedicated to Kathryn Calder’s mother, who had recently died and was, incidentally, Carl Newman’s sister. It’s an interesting story involving adoption and discovering family they didn’t know they had and if you’re curious, it’s easy enough to google. But back to the song.

“Crash years” was the second single released off the album and it’s a real humdinger. The words were written by Newman as are the majority of the songs on their albums but he leaves the lead vocals here to the unflappable Neko Case. The peppy rhythm section is kept honest by just there guitars and breezy staccato keys. And there’s the awesome use of whistling after every chorus that doesn’t sound at all out of place. This is all gorgeous, of course, but what really makes this song for me is the driving and thumping cello, smooth like a well oiled villain’s moustache, and if you’ve turned the volume on your stereo up just so, you can feel it deep within your soul.

“Crash years” could be a nod to the financial woes and economic slowdown at the time, a topic that could hardly be ignored. It’s hinting at the evils of stock markets and clocks and banks… oh my. But Newman doesn’t really point fingers. He just shrugs. The upbeat feel of the song suggests we’re all in the same sinking boat, all ruined, so why get down. Just hum along with the cello and everything will be alright.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2010: #28 The New Pornographers “Sweet talk, sweet talk”

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It feels like I just finished writing about The New Pornographers. However, that post is so two weeks ago now and is for a list of tracks from a completely different decade. And I can say with certainty this will not be the last time this Vancouver-based indie rock collective will be mentioned within these pages so let’s get talking about “Sweet talk, sweet talk”, song number twenty-eight in my Best tunes of 2010 list.

“Together”, the band’s fifth long player, was released at the beginning of May but The New Pornographers didn’t get around to releasing a video for “Sweet talk, sweet talk” until the following December. It was produced in conjunction with Oxfam America in support of efforts to raise funds for the cleanup in the wake of the BP oil spill. All three principal vocalists in the song, Carl Newman, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder appear at the beginning of the video, saying a few words about the impacts this catastrophe had on the people of Louisiana, still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina five years earlier, and trying to keep a seven month old issue (that seemed to have been dropped by the fickle media) in the public’s consciousness. The video shows footage from the devastated coastline, the affected wildlife and the real people whose livelihoods were laid to waste by the tragedy. It is interesting going back to watch it seven years removed from the incident and being reminded of something that seemed so front and centre, something we watched day in and day out in the news and that today, some of us might have forgotten had ever happened.

The track itself is brilliant number, staccato rhythm, vocals, and melodies that call to mind the interminable ticking of a clock and of course, the passing of time. Then, the handclaps kick in to add effervescence to an already upbeat feeling and the harmonizing and trading vocals of the three principals show how beautiful synergy can be. This and the big sound and irresistible hooks are the hallmarks of The New Pornographers’ music. “Sweet talk, sweet talk” truly is a sweet tune, no more talk necessary.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.