The New Pornographers Are Masters of Joyous Indie-Pop

It hardly seems that 14 years have passed since Canada's New Pornographers dropped their debut full-length, Mass Romantic, upon a whole lot of virgin ears. To say that the indie power-pop band's initial offering was well-received is an understatement.

Critics went cuckoo for it, and the recording found its way onto several of that year's "best of" lists. Music lovers were equally smitten, eating up its addictive mix of powerful guitars and drums layered with diverse instruments like synthesizers and pipe organs and delectable vocals from multiple members. Smart, harmonious, and gritty, the recording was the foundation on which a base of devoted fans was built, about which founding member/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist A.C. Newman says, "As a musician, you always hope that someone is going to listen to what you do and like it. And, of course, you hope it becomes popular. So, of course, I hoped for it but didn't expect it."

Like the other members of the New Pornographers, Newman was active in the Vancouver music scene, playing in bands like Zumpano and Superconductor (whose song "Shaved Temple" is on this writer's list of all-time favorites) prior to the band's formation.

Plenty of the NP crew also has their irons in other fires. For instance, Neko Case has a wildly successful solo career and is more of a part-timer in New Pornographers, and Dan Bejar and John Collins are both in the indie band Destroyer, who plan to soon follow up on their last release in 2011. Newman is happy to have NP as his primary project as he continues solo pursuits.

This month sees the band launching a tour in support of its latest release, Brill Bruisers, a 13-track recording heavily penned by Newman, who is looking forward to playing the new songs on the tour.

"A lot of times, bands will get a good set together for tour and then stick with it for the duration," says Newman. "It might be easy or convenient to do that, but I don't really like to."

In addition to being excited to share the new songs with live audiences, he knows that there are also plenty of older songs fans are hoping to hear.

"We have so much material that we can play a good amount of the new songs and still include a large mix of songs from previous records."

The title is a shortened version from the original "Brilliant Bruisers" and does give a nod to New York's historic Brill Building, a hub of musical activity since the 1940s, with many a hit song being penned within its walls. The title track exemplifies just how good the New Pornographers are at taking elements from different decades of rock and pop and incorporating them into their masterpieces, crafting results that are unique.

"Brill Bruisers" the song kicks off enveloping you in '60s-style pop goodness. Before you can take a breath, it shifts without fanfare or effort into serious ELO territory. The song incorporates some of the style and sharpness of the best '80s new wave songs, and of course the cherry on top is the vocal sweetness that permeates.

Another track, "War on the East Coast," written and sung by Bejar, is gently intense. Brill Bruisers is like taking a tour that continuously highlights the strengths of each band member while appreciating the inherent cohesion that brings it all together. For Newman, writing this from a good place in life was exciting. "I wasn't experiencing anything rough or getting over something difficult while writing Brill Bruisers. I was coming more from a celebratory point in life."

New Pornographers are scheduled to perform Monday, October 13, at Crescent Ballroom.

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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young