29 August 2008

Apollo's Awesome Album Areview

Here it is, folks- the first installment in something that I'm hoping will become a regular occurrence on my blog. Let me know what you think.

The New Pornographers are a band that I’ve never fully immersed myself in and whenever I do stumble across one of their albums in my musical journey I always think, “I’ve got to start listening to more of these folks.” I got their most recent album, Challengers, as soon as it came out and had only listened to it a few times until the other day. Luckily, I was spurred into giving it another round on the proverbial turntable. I’m not typically a fan of ‘pop’ music. I’m even less of a fan of the term ‘pop music’, but in this case I think it lends itself well to the description. It’s easy to get lost in the plethora of pop bands that want to be as good as The New Pornographers. There are two very important things missing from most of those groups: A.C. Newman and Neko Case. A.C. Newman is the mastermind behind the band; the genius that arranges the majority of their poppy, dance-y, harmony –fueled fun times. Neko Case is Neko Case. If you don’t know who she is then stop reading now and go listen to her music. Then you can return to my blog knowing full-well that I’ve totally got dibs if you find her.

Challengers is a great record. Overall it is pop rock at its finest; a quirky, fun, and at times challenging testament to the power of strong composition. It’s all there- awesome harmonics, Neko Case, guitar riffs so hooky and elegant that they’d make Rivers Cuomo jealous, orchestral backing, poetic and challenging lyrics, Neko Case, piano rockers (“All the Things that Go to Make Heaven and Earth”), flutes, and even a few songs that make you remember what makes you love music as much as you do. If you can listen to the titular song (the third track) and not fall head over then you’re not on the right ship, kid. Even the weaker tracks (Entering White Cecilia, Adventures in Solitude) on the album could probably stand up as a great single. There are toe-tappers (“All the Old Showstoppers”, which sounds like it’d be amazing live) and hip-swingers (“Myriad Harbour”, which also a killer talky song), too.

One of my major modes when I listen to any song is the ‘what does this remind me of?’ mode. Well, this is what all I’ve got scribbled down on my notepad here: The Shins, Phil Collins, Eisley, Polyphonic Spree, The Decemberists, and Radiohead. Those are just the ones I could actually place, too. What does that tell you? The last song (“The Spirit of Giving”) even recalls Bob Dylan in a strange way that I just picked up on. Speaking of which, the last song is incredible as well- it’s bitter, depressing, beautiful, and probably my second favorite track on the whole album (the first being the titular track and the third being “Go Places” because she uses the phrase ‘deus ex machina’ in the song).

If I had to say one negative thing about the album it’s this: I don’t think that Newman’s lyrical complexity is well-matched by the music. Sonically, this is the sort of stuff you’d want to play at a party, which isn’t typically the best venue for songs about poverty and loneliness. You can listen to this whole album 30 times and not ever really gleam much meaning from a lot of the songs, but that’s because the music is good enough that you don’t find yourself asking much of the lyrics. Some of Newman’s writing would probably be better served in arrangements that made you want to sit and think, not jump and dance. All in all, though, this is an album that you should definitely own.


Dave said...

July Jones was the first song that got me into the band. That and Neko. I'll fight you for her. =P

Sarah said...

Excellent! Glad you enjoyed it. I've listened to the album about a thousand times and the lyrics are still pretty inscrutable. But they're neat and I dig them. "Go Places" is more often than not the song my brain defaults to.

Play hearts kid; they work well!

Apollo said...

that is a good track, dave. but i will do terrible things to someone for Neko Case. just so you know that.

sarah, i completely agree with you about the lyrics and the album. i love that line from 'go places' too! ps i've decided i want to play you in scrabble.