The 10 Best Songs by The New Pornographers

Canadian power pop band The New Pornographers are often described as a supergroup. Leader A.C. Newman disputes this, pointing out that neither Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, alt-country vocalist Neko Case, nor his former band Zumpano were famous when the New Pornographers formed in 1997.

The band’s 2000 debut Mass Romantic was an unexpected success, leading to a sellout tour and comparisons with Cheap Trick, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys. The New Pornographers consistently have excellent melodies and harmonies, using four different lead singers – along with Newman, Bejar, and Case, Newman’s niece Kathryn Calder also sings for the group.

The New Pornographers have continued to thrive for two decades, recording eight strong albums with a high proportion of terrific songs. Winnowing this list to ten, I had to omit favourites like ‘Letter From An Occupant’, ‘High-Ticket Attractions’, ‘Çrash Years’, and ‘Dancehall Domine’. Here are ten of my favourites from their stellar catalogue.

10 Best New Pornographers Songs

#10 Myriad Harbour

from Challengers, 2007
Dan Bejar wrote ‘Myriad Harbour’ about Newman marrying and moving to New York – although it’s typically oblique. There’s a live video on Youtube where Newman refers to it as his favourite song in the New Pornographers’ catalogue.


#9 Sing Me Spanish Techno

from Twin Cinema, 2005
The band’s third album is their best, adding a layer of sophistication to their energetic power-pop. The main attraction on ‘Sing Me Spanish Techno’ is the beautifully harmonised bridge – ‘Traveling at godspeed/Over the hills and trails”.


#8 Higher Beams

from In The Morse Code of Brake Lights, 2019
The New Pornographers recent albums suffer a little without Dan Bejar’s cryptic inscrutabilities to balance A.C. Newman’s sugary pop confections, but Newman’s still a great writer. The group don’t usually employ strings, but they sound great here – supporting the ascending melody that recalls Brian Wilson’s 1960s work. The f-bomb in the final chorus is a little out of character.


#7 Brill Bruisers

from Brill Bruisers, 2014
The opener to the album of the same name is dynamic and propulsive, the hook a glorious mélange of voices. There’s a great Newman lead vocal – singing at the top of the range, he sounds more urgent than usual. Newman told AZCentral – “From the moment we started that record, we thought, “This is the first song. This has to be.””


#6 Silver Jenny Dollar

from Together, 2010
‘Silver Jenny Dollar’ might be the most straightforward song Dan Bejar has ever released, a concise power pop gem. But it’s an infectious guitar riff, and there’s some dynamic drumming from Kurt Dahle. I never realised that Bejar was singing “cartilage and sinew” – I always thought he was referring to “Carthanage Inu, perhaps an obscure Roman emperor?


#5 Challengers

from Challengers, 2007
Newman wrote ‘Challengers’ about marrying and moving to New York. Challengers is an unusually mellow New Pornographers album, and the main instrumentation on the title track is an acoustic guitar strum. The vocals are intricately arranged however – the “ooh-la ooh-la” part in the chorus is lovely. My wife would have voted for another mellow Challengers track, ‘Adventures in Solitude’, which I couldn’t squeeze onto this list.


#4 From Blown Speakers

from Electric Version, 2003
‘From Blown Speakers’ utilises one of my favorite songwriting tricks. There’s a series of verses that build up the tension, while withholding the chorus. When the huge and harmonised chorus finally arrives, it’s a huge hit of adrenaline.


#3 The Bones Of An Idol

from Twin Cinema, 2005
‘The Bones of an Idol’ is second track on Twin Cinema; following the upbeat power pop of the opener, it’s more reflective and sophisticated. There’s a great arrangement – Todd Fancey’s lead guitar part is withheld until halfway through the song. When it arrives, it’s the missing ingredient in a great tune.


#2 The Laws Have Changed

from The Electric Version, 2003
‘The Laws Have Changed’ is a great energetic power pop song, one of the band’s best known tracks. Newman and Case share the lead vocals, and it’s non stop action. It’s derived from the band’s earlier song ‘Letter From An Occupant’. Taking inspiration from the way The Turtles turned ‘Happy Together’ into ‘Elenore’, Newman turned parts of the ‘Occupant’ melody backwards and wrote new lyrics to them, creating ‘The Laws Have Changed’.


#1 These Are The Fables

from Twin Cinema, 2005
The New Pornographers moved away from power pop on Twin Cinema, adding sophisticated pop/rock to their sound. ‘These Are The Fables’ is gorgeous, with Neko Case’s voice navigating a beautiful melody. The dynamics are great too – the drums are absent for much of the song, only entering for the third verse.


Did I miss your favourite New Pornographers song?

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Aphoristical

Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.

Aphoristic Album Reviews features many Reviews and Blog Posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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34 Comments

  1. I really only heard one of their albums all the way through so I don’t know most of their songs. I like Neko Case when I heard her own stuff. Why is that one album called Brill Bruisers? I was hoping that it had something to do with the Brill Building but obviously not. I was hoping it might be covers of Bill Building songs.. LMAO

    • I never thought of that before how Happy Together was turned into Elenore. A lot of times when people rewrite their own songs they turn out just as good as the original. Usually not, but sometimes.

      • I didn’t know that story, but they do sound similar when you think about it. I think it can end up a little hollow repeating success, but it worked well that time.

    • I think Newman is a devotee of 1960s pop – he said he listened to lots of Bacharach and Jimmy Webb to figure out how they made all those amazing chord changes. So I think it’s inspired by Brill Building.

      • He’s a devotee of 60s pop? Sounds like my kind of guy. I should listen to the rest of their stuff. Is that one about techno actually techno music? Cuz I mostly listen to a lot of types of techno and other electronic. I got a feeling that Techno is just a title though and has nothing to do with techno music.

        • Lol. “Sing me Spanish techno” is a great song but not in the music genre of “techno”.

          You guys call NP and Sloan “power pop”. I don’t really know what that is. I think of them both as Indy rock, but I’m getting older so I miss out on some things.

          Last week Someone in the office called me “extra”. I had to ask my older kids what it meant.

          • Ha. I never really understood exactly what power pop is either. I know which people are called power pop, but I really don’t know why. I don’t know why it’s not just rock. If something is played by a rock band then it is rock as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes younger people than me try to inform me that the Beatles weren’t Rock. That they were pop. I really don’t see the need for all these useless distinctions, especially when it’s as ridiculous as that one is. Ya know what I mean?
            It’s weird that the album is called Sing me Spanish Techno because I never heard any Spanish techno that had any lyrics. I listen to a lot of Spanish House though which sometimes has lyrics, but they’re more like little snippets and samples, and not something that somebody would actually sing to someone. LOL!!!

          • Power pop is basically poppy tunes with harmonies and heavy guitars – The Raspberries’ ‘Go All The Way’ is a good formative example.

          • I bought the album but I was a bit disappointed – hard to live up to that song. I probably just need a greatest hits or something.

  2. Thanks! You are missing “Champions of red Wine”.

    I think the best thing they ever did was AC Newmans album (with Nikko) “shut down the streets”. Play “I’m not talking” and “encyclopedia of classic takedowns”. Amazing.

    • I’ve been listening to solo A.C. Newman a bit this week actually. I’m still team Slow Wonder though.

      • Cool. I think the two songs I mentioned (“I’m not talking” and “encyclopedia… “ ) would crack a top ten if you expanded it to include AC and NC “solo” stuff plus all the various other side projects.

        • Destroyer and Neko Case deserve their own lists. Quite possibly A.C. Newman too – he’s given a lot of his best stuff to the New Pornographers, but his three solo albums are all substantial.

    • They were pretty big for me – came out when I was starting to explore newer music rather than being stuck in the 1960s and 1970s.

  3. Great choice of subject for this series. Of course, I am a bit biased because I love this Canadian band.

    I understand Newman saying that they weren’t all huge before the band started but I would say that they continue to be a supergroup because all of the members have a lot of different projects on the go and they continue to function as a group.

    As for top ten, that would take a lot more thinking on my part. You have chosen great tracks for your own list. For my own part, I am just looking forward to seeing them living for the second time this coming summer.

    • I saw them live just as the pandemic was warming up in March 2020.

      It’s funny timing actually, as Covid hit our house today for the first time. We’re doing well so far.

  4. I need to learn more of their songs…I know quite a few by looking for power pop and I heard a few. I really liked what I heard.

    Another Canadian power-pop band I’ve listened to is Sloan

    • Sloan are really good too – I quite like how The New Pornographers have evolved a bit, I think Sloan have stuck closer to power pop. Both have multiple talented vocalists and songwriters.

      • When I finish with the TV Draft…taking over for Hanspostcard I’m going to do more power pop again. I will check them out again.

          • I find it interesting how many people on this blog seem to know Sloan. I always thought it was a niche-y Canada-only thing.

            When The Strokes first came to Canada, the organizers made Sloan the opener. The guys from the strokes had no idea who Sloan was. NYC and Halifax are about a one hour direct flight apart.

          • I remember for a while they were kind of popular in the ’90s, at least among people who listened to college radio type stuff. I had that album One Chord to Another I think it was called, and another one called Navy Blue.

          • I feel like a lot of music nerds pass on the 1990s mainstream and go for slightly more obscure rock bands like Teenage Fanclub, Sloan, Pavement, or whatever.

          • Yes…I’m gonna have to move more that way again! I’ll have to post that one…I’ve been over a few.

  5. What a great band they are. One of my favorites and I loved the list, even if it’s awfully hard to select just ten tracks out of their catalog.

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