New Pornographers latest album incorporates conceptual feeling

 :: The New Pornographers :: Gothic Theatre :: November 5 ::

By Chris Castaneda
The weather report in San Francisco, according to John Collins of the New Pornographers, is nice, breezy and not too hot. The bassist is in search of a calm spot to settle down for a conversation with The Marquee before the band’s show at the Warfield Theatre in a few hours, as the Vancouver-based supergroup starts its North American tour in support of Challengers.

The new album (the group’s fourth) is a much more lush and relaxed sounding piece than its predecessor, Twin Cinema (2005). That said, criticism has already begun to surface alleging that Challengers lacks the twists, turns and delicious pop hooks of Twin Cinema and that principal songwriter, and recently married, A.C. “Carl” Newman took a safer, more direct approach. But there is plenty of depth to Challengers that gives it legs from which to proudly stand on its own.
The songwriting efforts of Newman and Danny Bejar create a slightly melancholic atmosphere with songs like the title track, “Adventures In Solitude,” and “The Spirit Of Giving.” But there is also a joyfulness and optimism to the album that keeps it from becoming too heavy. The steady pulse of “All The Old Showstoppers” and the almost-English pop playfulness of “Myriad Harbour” are proof enough that the group didn’t suddenly forget how to craft a pounding tune. The combined strengths of Kathryn Calder (Newman’s niece) and the luminous Neko Case catapult the vocal dynamics, already a key element of the group’s sound, to an even higher level.
Collins said that while the album features all the band members, a great deal of the flavor of Challengers falls on the writing of Newman. “We wanted to make another record and feature everybody’s talents as much as we could. I think the shape of the album, the sound of it, really came out of the songs Carl was writing — which were on balance a bit more, kind of thoughtful and a little less abstract. I really like the way you can still read your own story into his lyrics. There was definitely an actual concept behind a lot of the tunes. Falling in love and moving to New York was kind of the crux of it,” Collins said.
Collins went on to explain that the band’s longevity, which is going on 10 years now, helped tremendously in the scope of the album as well, because they know each other, and their role as a unit. “For several years, until our first record came out, there were about three years there when it just didn’t seem like much ever happened. We were practicing one or two nights a week for a year and a half or so and tinkering around with the band thing. That was really valuable time because the band really got a sound and an identity,” he said.
That aspect, coupled with the band’s curious nature, according to Collins, helped years ago to define the group’s delivery, particularly with its vocals. “The vocal-heavy nature of the New Pornographers, in my recollection, started with Carl doing some demos ages ago at my studio. We had two digital eight DAT machines, and I just loved his voice and singing style. He was very creative too, making musical parts for vocals. I just said, ‘Let’s go nuts. Let’s go completely Brian Wilson and just go past the point of good taste.’ And then we could make ourselves sick and stretch it back to the threshold of bad taste. When we started working on the Pornographers’ first record [Mass Romantic] that was definitely a major thing that I wanted to do, and Carl was into it too. We had a great time stacking his falsetto harmonies and stuff. It became obvious that that was a good idea,” Collins said.
:: The New Pornographers ::
:: Gothic Theatre :: November 5 ::

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