The New Pornographers

its the new pornographers

The New Pornographers

AC Newman – vocals, gtr, ebow, synth, harmonica, pump organ & xylophone
John Collins – bass, synth, ebow & vocals
Kurt Dahle – drums & vocals
Blaine Thurier – synth
Todd Fancey – gtr
Dan Bejar – vocals, gtr, synth & melodion
Neko Case – vocals
Kathryn Calder – vocals & piano
Nora O’Connor - vocals

The New Pornographers are the veritable cream of 2005’s Canadian crop of eccentric pop-noire exponents. Straight out of Vancouver, & fronted by the obscenely talented AC Newman (plain Carl to his mates), their recent masterpiece “Twin Cinema” is their 3rd LP (or 4th, if you count Newman’s 2004 solo debut, “The Slow Wonder”).

Formed way back in 1997, the ensuing 8 years have seen The New Pornographers ferment any of their excess sugar into pure alcohol: if “Mass Romantic” (2000) was strangely kinky and “Electric Version” (2003) roundly accessible, then “Twin Cinema” is an affective amalgamation of the two, as AC Newman confirms:

“We consciously wanted to change it up a little, retain what made the first two LPs great, but move in new directions. I wanted it to be more sweeping and sprawling, to have the songs move dynamically, both internally, and from song to song. We wanted to see if we could make a record that isn’t referred to as ‘the windows down, car-stereo blasting summer LP of the year’ – if only once!”

In terms of influence, Newman is as much a victim of his own record collection as any other caring, sharing artiste:

“Various unintentional influences have crept into our work, some of which are quickly removed: The Moody Blues, Tubeway Army, Wings, always Wings, never The Beatles, Eno, of course you can’t play ebow without sounding like Eno, Modern English, Mid-period post-Gabriel Genesis, The Stranglers, 10CC . . .”

Now it’s my turn, whether intentional or not, I can here ELO, Squeeze, The Jayhawks & Prefab Sprout, amongst many others (often in the same verse) – though I doubt you really want me to plough through, track by track, telling you what it reminds me of (hello, Mojo). All you really need to know is that “Twin Cinema” is traditional song writing with the ‘off kilter’ faders ramped up to 11. A 100% pukka, bona fide classic. There’s no filler here.

“Twin Cinema” also features the recording debut of Kathryn Calder, the latest in a long line of female prodigies - & ironically – Newman’s long lost niece:

“About 7 years ago I found out I had a long lost sister, who had two kids. I knew Kathryn became a musician, but only recently friends saw her band play and raved about her talent. I thought, ‘you can’t have your niece in your band! It’s just not done!’ It turns out that it is done.”

In terms of sonic architecture, “Twin Cinema” is timeless: blending folk, power-pop, 60s psych, left-field accessibility, rampant intelligentsia & enough poetic license to sink even the massed vessels of Albion, The New Pornographers have quite possibly coined a new genre all of their own (though I’m far too chicken to stick my neck out & christen it – we’ll leave that to the style mongers). The likes of “Sing Me Spanish Techno”, “Three Or Four”, “The Jessica Numbers” & “Streets Of Fire” are destined to mark The New Pornographers as a band apart for many moons to come.

Here’s AC Newman’s take on ”Twin Cinema”:

“Twin Cinema”: An updated draft of an “Electric Version” era tune with new lyrics referencing Newman’s former home: San Francisco, “I’m hoping San Franciscans will hoot and holler at the ‘16th and Valencia’ line when we play out there”.

“They’re showing us on both screens”

"The Bones Of An Idol": This song originated as a result of a studio accident, in which MIDI drum sounds were replaced with piano notes. Newman started writing the song using the dissonant piano music as the bed, but when they didn't mesh, he dropped the original music and "started going in a pseudo John Cale-Eno direction, with the insistent piano and the man chorus at the end, though we later chickened out and added ladies."

"Use It": Newman points out that drummer Dahle used beats from Iron Maiden, Kiss's "Detroit Rock City", and Zep's "Fool In The Rain" to create this "Frankenstein's monster". Lyric of the week:

"Two sips from the cup of human kindness and I'm shit-faced."

"The Bleeding Heart Show": The coda of this song, which confirms Newman's long-suspected interest in the Zulu choral music Isicathamiya, is something he "had around for a while, and just needed a great song to go with it."

"The Jessica Numbers": Possibly Newman's favorite song on the album, as "it doesn't sound like any song I can think of, though Dan compared it to 'Jesus Christ Superstar', which is of course an incredible compliment."

“These Are The Fables”: Newman says, "This one I like 'cause it's got, unintentionally, a little Jimmy Webb in it. It wouldn't have been that out of place on Thelma Houston's Sunshower or that Supremes album he wrote. It’s also cool to have Neko sing something not like her previous lead vocals." Note the groovy piano/drum jam toward the end.

“Sing Me Spanish Techno”: In which Newman tries to write a song with a ton of parts and an asymmetrical structure but still a pop song through and through. And succeeds. Title inspired by his girlfriend Amy, and, as he was reading Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces" while writing it, "there are some veiled references about the hero's journey and different myths, bullshit like that."

“Falling Through Your Clothes”: Newman and Collins (who Newman calls "the quiet backbone of the whole operation") found a shred of music from the Electric Version sessions - deemed too weird to develop for that album - and added some verses and gave it its own song. Newman thinks it sounds like proto-minimalist freak icon Moondog, but Newman is also stoned out of his gourd.

“Three Or Four”: The length of this song is 3:04. Accidentally. Newman says that since recording the song, "3 or 4" has shown up everywhere: When do you want to meet? 3 or 4. How many days were you there? 3 or 4. He says, "This song started as a call to arms for some personal revolution, then it became a kind of drinking song." This is a Neko/Kathryn double lead vocal.

“Star Bodies”: "Every album needs a song that's based on another one of our songs backwards," says Newman.

“Stacked Crooked”: Originally the opening track, Newman felt it worked better as a closer: "It had to be one or the other - it's too epic and strange to fit anywhere else." He fears he cribbed the verse from that "Wars Or Hands Of Time" song by 60s Aussie psych-rockers Masters Apprentices, which is such an A.C. Newman thing to fear.

Harrison Bored – tMx 22 – 11/05
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