It is with a grin and a nodding of heads that the New Pornographers introduce their new album, Together. Unlike their previous effort, Challengers, this album comes in like a lion, eschewing precious and academic pop tunes in favor of a more strident, yet no less intricate and intelligent, brand of power pop. It suits the band like a particularly fine pair of gloves.
"Moves" opens the door with insistent guitars, a driving beat, and, just to make sure you know the Pornos haven't lost their sense of levity, a cutely plinking piano line that underscores the propulsion of the proceedings. Once that door is open, the Pornos aren't content to just let the breeze blow through, balancing a mix of intricate and sweet ornament ("We End Up Together") with a much-needed insistence and anima ("Up In the Dark").
The best moments are when the band brings all this to bear in a single tune, which happens repeatedly on this album, but perhaps to best effect on the fuzzed-out and lounged-up "Daughters of Sorrow." Throughout, Neko Case's earthy voice plays foil to swooning cellos, while guitars built to rock rub up against the moors and moods of the best pop songwriting on the planet. Utterly charming.
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Totaled (WE ARE FREE)
It's kind of hard to like Indian Jewelry, and yet it's also almost impossible not to. Few bands have such an uncanny ability to blend the beautiful and the absurd, the jarring and the enveloping. Indian Jewelry plies these waters with an even choppier wake than ever on Totaled.
This, more than any other album by the band, sounds like an artificial creation. Jagged samples butt up against stuttering, almost unbelievably cheesy synth lines, and warped and robotic vocals flit under Eno-esque, sawing and yawing, unidentifiable sounds.
Actually, the oddest thing about this album is that, while it sounds utterly fabricated, it's with a sense of artificial intelligence. And while it includes some of Indian Jewelry's most jarring soundscapes to date, it never loses its underlying sense of rhythmic and melodic purpose. Like a jigsaw puzzle put together all the wrong way, the album's like an abstract-impressionist masterpiece that can only be appreciated when viewed from 20 yards away.