The New Pornographers – In The Morse Code of Brake Lights: New Album Reviews

The New Pornographers are successors to vintage pop/rock acts like The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and The Zombies. All of these groups could write brilliant pop songs that incorporate memorable melodies, beautiful harmonies, and intricate arrangements.

The Canadian super-group have been around since 2000’s Mass Romantic, formed by A.C. Newman who had previously fronted Zumpano. Newman’s comrades in the New Pornographers have included alt-country vocalist Neko Case and Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer); although as on 2017’s Whiteout Conditions, Bejar is absent, apart from some lyrics on ‘Need Some Giants’.

Whiteout Conditions suffered from the absence of Bejar; the three songs that he contributed always provided a sardonic yet welcome change of pace from Newman’s accomplished pop writing. Bejar’s not as missed on In The Morse Code of Brake Lights – The New Pornographers, on their eighth album, have added enough new elements to keep their sound interesting. Vocalist and violinist Simi Stone has previously toured with The New Pornographers, but In The Morse Code of Brake Lights is her first studio project for the group.

On 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 compositions. In the past, Newman’s lyrics were often based on sound as much as meaning, but in the current political current he’s occasionally direct; “deep in the culture of fear, we all hate living here” is an unusually straightforward lyric from the highlight ‘Higher Beams’.

The band’s musicianship is mainly used to serve the song, but as always there are great moments – a great John Collins bass-line drives ‘Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile’, while Joe Seiders’ drumming adds some dynamism to ‘Colossus of Rhodes’.

While most of the songs on In The Morse Code of Brake Lights are dressed up in intricate arrangements, Newman strips the cleverness right back on ‘You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going’.

Based on chart placements and its ranking on RYM, In The Morse Code of Brake Lights has been less well-received than any of the band’s earlier records. But apart from listener fatigue, the lack of enthusiasm is inexplicable – it’s another high-quality record of accomplished pop songs that exhibits new facets of this venerable band, and it’s one of their strongest records of this decade.

Read More
– New Release Reviews
– The New Pornographers Album Reviews

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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  1. I’ve really liked what I’ve heard. I’ve heard a lot of their stuff in the past few months when looking for songs for the power-pop posts.

      • Yes they are on my working list of bands. I was pointed to them from forums…I will say that some of their stuff has been more complex than some of the bands from the 70s…but great pop.
        I haven’t picked a song yet though.

  2. I’m with you, I think this is one of their strongest albums. Maybe not as immediate as some of their other albums, but that’s not a sleight on the strength of the songs or the album.

      • I caught up with the last couple earlier this year, so they’re quite fresh. But yeah, Brill Bruisers is the front runner and this isn’t far off that.

      • Yes it is…he is right in the fact it’s so wide open.
        I read the same thing over and over “this band was influenced by Beatles, Big Star, Raspberries etc.” yet when looking at power pop lists…hardly ever do you see the Beatles or Byrds.
        It was a fun read.

          • From what I read…it was supposedly said by Pete Townshend while describing Pictures Of Lily in the 60s…but you are right…it wasn’t widely used until the 70s.

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