The Canadian pop-rockers' fourth album was worth waiting for.
Gemma Padley 2007
Canadians always seem able to create music that falls right off the end of the epic scale. Perhaps it’s because so many of Canada’s bands cram in as many musicians as they possibly can. Vancouver based New Pornographers are no different. The octet have been together for ten years and 2007 sees the release of album number four; but the slightly slow production rate is no reflection on their ability to compose lyrically and instrumentally inspiring music; with an album as multi-layered as Challengers, you can forgive this reluctantly tagged ‘supergroup’ for taking their time.
The album gets to the nitty-gritty of feel good folk-pop immediately. “My Rights Versus Yours” clicks into gear with that unmistakable laidback Beach Boys sensibility and hooks similar to Belle and Sebastian. But while comparisons to the Scottish musical troupe are inevitable, (sunny harmonies and catchy melodies with emotive chord changes are a favourite of both), the New Pornographers are clearly their own band.
For, while Newman conveys life’s ups and downs with a perceptive lyrical clarity, he avoids sounding overly profound. Instrumentally, saccharine flourishes and swells are vetoed resulting in a sound, while still clearly pop, that avoids irritating superficiality. “Challengers”, perhaps the most rousing track on the album, is one example – heavily strummed echoey bass slowly builds while delicate banjo and thoughtful piano chords are gradually introduced. It’s a simple but effective combination.
New Pornographers never linger in wistful territory long. “Myriad Harbour” with a Go-Betweens vision and defiant Pixies-ish surf rock guitar riff has more attitude, while “All The Things That Make Heaven And Earth” powered by crazed melodian and Wurlitzer races off in a cloud of smoke. Challengers is what you could call a ‘travelling’ album – it’s packed full of the kind of musical metaphor songs that explore life as a ‘journey’. But the ability of music to emotionally ‘move’ never tires, especially when it is done as unpretentiously as this.