The New Pornographers are a good band.
This is probably as close to an irrefutable a fact as– ah shit. I already did this intro for my Spoon review. But, basically I’d say the same principals that guide how a longtime indie rock fan like myself processes a new Spoon album is about the same as how I process a new New Pornographers album.
Which is especially weird now that Spoon and The New Pornographers are apparently on the same album release cycle (they’ve both released an album this year, while their last releases both came out in 2014). But my main point is, The New Pornographers have been very consistent in releasing very good albums ever since they broke on to the scene in the early 00’s, and unsurprisingly, Whiteout Conditions follows that trend. And much like Spoon, this makes them a hard band to write about in a terribly enthusiastic way.
This seems to be why most critics who’ve reviewed Whiteout Conditions have globbed onto the fact that this album doesn’t feature The New Porno’s mysterious sort-of member Dan Bejar. And I will admit that I’ve always liked Bejar’s contributions to every New Pornographers album, since his style of pop songwriting is a little more unusual than A.C. Newman’s. In fact, “War On The West Coast” was probably my favorite track off of 2014’s Brill Bruisers, but at the same time, I think this does a disservice to the fact that Newman still writes really good, really catchy songs.
Also, I have no problem with the fact that less Bejar means more vocals from the women of The New Pornographers, the indomitable Neko Case, and the always underrated Kathryn Calder. “Second Sleep” in particular layers these vocalists in new and unorthodox ways, while embracing this more electronic version of The New Pornographers. Also, its just interesting to hear what a more streamlined New Pornographers album sounds like, since Bejar’s presence often made them overtly feel like a “supergroup”, instead of a bunch of musicians that have clearly been playing together long enough to declare this band as their main gig.
That said, if I had to throw any complaint in Whiteout Conditions’ direction, it’s that it doesn’t really break any huge sonic ground in comparison to Brill Bruisers. In a lot of ways, it’s a continuation of the band embracing it’s new wave influences, while also embracing the fact that on that album they sounded more fun than they had since 2003’s Electric Version. And again, A.C. Newman writes really good songs and plays them with a bunch of really awesome musicians. Which I realize is boring to write about, but fortunately, is never boring to listen to.
Favorite Tracks: “Play Money”, “Second Sleep”, “We’ve Been Here Before”