The New Pornographers emerged in 2000, a conglomerate of talent from nationally successful Canadian bands like Zumpano, Destroyer, and Limblifter. While A.C. Newman is the group’s main creative force, the band spotlighted Neko Case’s warm, sumptuous voice and Dan Bejar’s offbeat songs on a handful of tracks on each album.
The group had their winning formula in place right off the bat – upbeat songs with complex chord changes, ornate harmonies, and clever arrangements. You could categorise them as indie pop, power pop, or pop/rock, but if you’re a fan of intelligent, studio-crafted guitar pop, The New Pornographers are one of the leading exponents in the 21st century.
Here are The New Pornographers’ nine studio albums ranked from worst to best – bear in mind that they’ve never made a weak album, and all of their work is recommended:
The New Pornographers Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best
#9 Continue as a Guest
I saw The New Pornographers live just as the Covid-19 pandemic was spreading over the globe in early March 2020. The pandemic affected the band just live everyone else – they created their ninth album working remotely. The change seems to have sucked some of the joy and energy out of the band – it’s their least consistent and least joyful album. The record has its moments – ‘Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies’ moves along on a strong groove and a memorable hook, while ‘Firework in the Falling Snow’ is pretty. But it’s the least essential New Pornographers album to date.
#8 Whiteout Conditions
Whiteout Conditions was The New Pornographers’ first album not to feature Destroyer (aka Dan Bejar). It feels incomplete without the three quirky songs he usually contributes. But even their weakest album is worthwhile, updating their sound with more electronics, but not departing from their core strengths of melodic, harmony-filled songs. Tracks like ‘High-Ticket Attractions’ are still thrilling bursts of adrenaline.
The New Pornographers persisted with the mellower sound of Challengers for their fifth album. Songs like ‘Valkyrie in the Roller Disco’ and ‘If You Can’t See My Mirrors’ are gentle and low key. Together 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.
#6 Mass Romantic
I’m aware that this is the most controversial placement on this list, relegating the band’s popular debut to the bottom half of this list. Mass Romantic is full of creative songs that are much more sophisticated than the usual I IV V chord progressions of power pop. Compared to The New Pornographers’ later work it lacks stylistic variation – it’s relentlessly uptempo – and it’s bare without a lead guitarist. Songs like Case’s ‘Letter From An Occupant’ were enough to establish a successful career.
#5 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.” Bejar’s ‘War on the East Coast’ provides a sardonic contrast with upbeat pop/rock songs like ‘Dancehall Domine’ and the title track.
#4 In The Morse Code of Brake Lights
On 2017’s Whiteout Conditions the band embraced more electronic sounds, and In The Morse Code of Brake Lights continues this direction. Songs like ‘Colossus of Rhodes’ and ‘Leather on the Seat’ are drenched in strings and synths that complement Newman’s intricate songs. Songs like ‘Higher Beams’ and ‘Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile’ showcase a band as sharp as ever on their eighth studio album.
A.C. Newman’s niece Kathryn Calder joined the band 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. Challengers features one of Bejar’s strongest sets of songs for The New Pornographers, with ‘Myriad Harbour’ and ‘Entering White Cecilia’.
#2 Electric Version
The New Pornographers added more punch to their intricate song-craft 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’.
#1 Twin Cinema
The New Pornographers’ first couple of albums are energetic and high velocity, while their later albums are more ornate and subdued. Their 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 ‘The Bleeding Heart Show’, ‘Sing Me Spanish Techno’, ‘The Bones of an Idol’, and ‘Jackie Dressed in Cobras’.
Did I underrate your favourite New Pornographers album? Should they have chosen a more family-friendly name? Let me know!