The New Pornographers Craft Literary Jangles 

Thursday July 29, Twilight Concert Series

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There are rarely acknowledged challenges in making highly intelligent pop music: It seems like you’d have to work complexity into it somehow. Otherwise, it just seems overly facile or simplistic or just plain silly.

In the song “My Shepherd” on The New Pornographers’ new album Together, Neko Case reminds the object of the lyrics, whomever that may be, “you always loved the short-story form.”

It’s a key to understanding the music of this Canadian band whose ensemble sound is so sharply focused—they are so damned on all of the time—that you might overlook just how smart they are. Their songs are like short stories, unfolding in the length of the pop song format not massive, universal profundities, but smaller insights, brief yet telling windows into different worlds.

As a mainstay of the indie flagship Matador Records label, having released four of their five albums under that banner, The New Pornographers are slated to perform at “The Lost Weekend,” the label’s 21st birthday celebration, the first weekend in October, along with indie music icons Pavement and Guided By Voices. “Matador has had a big impact on our careers,” admits singer/guitarist Carl “AC” Newman, who is married to Christy Simpson, the label’s marketing manager. “We’ve always loved music on Matador, and it was kind of our dream label. We were amazed when they signed us.”

But then again, Newman has been surprised that musicmaking turned into a career at all for the Vancouver band.

“I always thought we’d be working day jobs,” he muses. “But we’re still friends and have fun playing together. We battle sometimes; it’s not always a cakewalk.”

The band’s sound, combining the ’60s-ish vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys with the melodic thrust of ’70s glam rock, and the lyric-driven writing that springs from ’90s indie rock, is more than the sum of its parts, though it’s composed of some excellent parts indeed. In addition to Newman’s two highly rated solo albums, singer Case balances her own solo career with life in the band, and Dan Bejar shares songwriting duties with Newman, in addition to his work leading experimental rock band Destroyer. All members of the band were well-known in the Vancouver music scene before The New Pornographers.

The problem with being The New Pornographers right now is that they’ve already crafted two albums—Twin Cinema and their debut, Mass Romantic—that are ranked among the best indie rock albums of all time. How do you follow that kind of success? Their solution isn’t to become more “byzantine,” as they warn against on “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” but to pull their wagons together as an ensemble band never more “together.” They will keep doing what they do best, killing it softly—as much as the jangle of the music resonates, it’s the smaller moments that return as you listen to the album over and over, moments like Case’s softly phrased “careful, kid, and no one gets hurt” on “My Shepherd,” when you realize just how sharp the group is.

“We called the album Together, but it’s not like we were apart,” Newman explains. “I wanted a sense of community. I think calling it such a generic term was kind of intended to be tongue-in-cheek.”

Whatever meaning the title does or doesn’t have, it’s a somewhat more fateful view of that pop song evergreen, boy meets girl, in a song like “We End Up Together” that resigns itself to explaining “love is what happens in the dark”; it doesn’t mean their songwriting has gotten lackadaisical, but that it’s just from a perspective a little further on down the road, if not a further remove—no ironic distance from a band that gets you to put your hands together along with the song “Your Hands (Together),” and can make harsh realities like the economic metaphor of “Crash Years” eminently hummable.

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
w/ The Dodos
Twilight Concert Series
Pioneer Park
300 W. 300 South
Thursday, July 29,
7 p.m.
Free 

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