The New Pornographers emerged in 2000, a conglomerate of talent from regionally successful Canadian bands like Zumpano, Destroyer, and Limblifter. Led by A.C. Newman, the band spotlighted Neko Case’s warm, sumptuous voice and Dan Bejar’s offbeat songs on a handful of tracks each album. They had their winning formula in place right off the bat – upbeat songs with complex chord changes, ornate harmonies, and clever arrangements. You could call them indie pop, power pop, pop/rock, but if you’re a fan of intelligent studio crafted guitar pop, The New Pornographers are one of the leading exponents of the genre in the 21st century.
Usually I label these album ranking features worst to best, but it seemed a tough name for this band, given that none of their seven albums are particularly weak.
#7 – Whiteout Conditions
The New Pornographers most recent album is their only record not to feature Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, and it feels incomplete without the three quirky songs he usually contributes. But it’s still a very strong record, updating their sound with more electronics, but not departing from their core strengths of melodic, harmony filled songs.
Favourite track: ‘High Ticket Attractions’ (Newman)
#6 – Together
The New Pornographers continued the mellower sound of Challengers with their fifth album. Songs like ‘Valkyrie in the Roller Disco’ and ‘If You Can’t See My Mirrors’ are gentle and low key. Challengers is notable for the high number of guest appearances, including St. Vincent, Will Sheff, and Zach Condon, although the guest appearances are subdued enough not to overly influence the sound of the record.
Favourite track: ‘Silver Jenny Dollar’ (Bejar)
#5 – Mass Romantic
I’m aware that this is the most controversial placement on this list, placing the band’s popular debut in the bottom half. Mass Romantic is full of creative songs that are much more sophisticated than the usual I IV V chord progressions of power pop, but it lacks stylistic variation – it’s relentlessly uptempo – and feels a bare without a lead guitarist.
Favourite Track – ‘The Fake Headlines’ (Newman)
#4 – Brill Bruisers
I enjoyed the more mellow New Pornographers albums that preceded Brill Bruisers, but the return to a high energy approach is welcome here. The opening track is irresistibly upbeat and energetic, and Newman stated that “I am at a place where nothing in my life is dragging me down and the music reflects that.”
Favourite Track – ‘Brill Bruisers’ (Newman) – but let’s watch Bejar’s ‘War on the East Coast’, where Newman lip syncs all the lyrics on Bejar’s behalf.
#3 – Challengers
A.C. Newman’s niece Kathryn Calder joined the band in time for their fourth album, adding a second female voice. While there’s upbeat power pop like ‘All The Old Showstoppers’, the meat of Challengers is in the mellow tunes like ‘Go Places’ and the title track, while Bejar shines with ‘Myriad Harbour’ and ‘Entering White Cecilia’.
Favourite Track – ‘Challengers’ (Newman)
#2 – Electric Version
The New Pornographers added more punch to their intricate songcraft on their second album, adding lead guitarist Todd Fancey to beef up their sound. The best known song is ‘The Laws Have Changed’, where Case, as she often does, steals the show, but I’ve always been partial to the tension build and release of ‘From Blown Speakers’.
Favourite Track – ‘From Blown Speakers’ (Newman)
#1 – Twin Cinema
It’s reasonable to categorise The New Pornographers’ first couple of albums as high velocity, and their later albums as more ornate and subdued. Third album Twin Cinema captures them at the perfect place in their evolution between youthful enthusiasm and adult sophistication. And it’s full of great songs like ‘Sing Me Spanish Techno’, ‘The Bones of an Idol’, and ‘Jackie Dressed in Cobras’.
Favourite Track: ‘These Are The Fables’ (Newman)
Did I underrate your favourite New Pornographers album? Should they have chosen a more family friendly name? Let me know!