The New Pornographers spearhead a new wave of “subliminable” threats from the Great White North
Friends, for the past month I have had a set of songs rattling around in my head that will not let me sleep. The songs are always there, always turning, always repeating. I am plagued day and night.
It is clear to me now that our beautiful nation has been looking for its secret threats in all the wrong places. Our politicians would have you believe that threats exist in vague European nations you have hardly heard of. The process of xenophobic political obsession often leaves us so myopic that we forget the simple geographical fact that our beloved United States is bordered by a quiet (but very large) country to the north. Our politicians seem to feel that our northern neighbors do not seem quite so nefarious as our cousins overseas.
But occasionally one hears something of Canada that makes me wonder what kind of evil is really going on up there. Case in point: The New Pornographers.
Of course, we have had Canadian musical imports before. How could one forget how Neil Young single-handedly brought down the American South, or how Bryan Adams destroyed the summer of 1969, or how Alanis Morissette incorrectly defined the word “ironic” and made it into a million-dollar-seller.
The New Pornographers, then, have quite a legacy of destruction to live up to.
And live up to it they do. Their debut CD, Mass Romantic, dishes out 12 tracks of dense, swirling retro indie pop as well as any invading power. From its opening bars, Mass Romantic mixes perfect melodies and harmonies with retro sensibility. One imagines even the most jaded listener humming along in glazed-over glee.
The nefarious thing about this band is that Neko Case is a member. Yes, the very same Neko Case who released Furnace Room Lullaby a year or two ago, the alt-country crooner who may be the very best of her genre. The disgraceful thing about Case’s involvement with this new band is that the New Pornographers ain’t country and, ultimately, it isn’t even her band. It’s a pop band and that’s how Case sings it—completely twangless.
The unrepentant leader of the New Pornographers is Carl Newman. Newman has a track record with bands like Zumpano and Superconductor, but it is with the New Pornographers that his work truly shines. Songs like “The Fake Headlines” are exactly what an invading force would want in a pop song: so catchy that it is nearly impossible to avoid head bobbing and foot tapping—clear and simple signs of brainwashing.
Newman avoids the brainwashing references by describing the precedents of his brand of pop. “The shuffle beats,” he explains, “are very glam. The singing is very bubblegum. Then, the chugging feel is like new wave. And there’s a lot of modern-day indie rock in there, too.” It is also true that many of the vocal harmonies seem to reference the Beach Boys, and Newman acknowledges this influence. “There are a few points on the record where we are obviously doing the vocal acrobatics thing,” he says. This is particularly apparent on “Jackie,” a track that features a vocal break that Brian Wilson himself would be proud of.
Brian Wilson aside, let us make one thing crystal clear: The New Pornographers are a threat to decent people everywhere. If you happen to see their performance this Saturday night at Old Ironsides, you will most likely be amazed by the superior songwriting, the incredible performances, the sheer musicality of the sound. You’ll be floored by the harmonies, the retro stylings, the beauty of the music. You might buy a CD. You might go home and listen to it. You might find yourself driving to work the next morning, humming a tune happily as you negotiate I-80 traffic. Then it’s all over.
Don’t let Canada bring harmony and musical joy to your life. Keep American music boring and mediocre by helping to keep the New Pornographers north of the border!