For better or worse, there’s far less sex and violence this week than the names New Pornographers and Anna B Savage imply.
The New Pornographers
Continue as a Guest
You could make a strong case that Vancouver’s The New Pornographers are the best pop/rock band of the 21st century so far. They’ve delivered a catalogue full of clever songwriting, gorgeous harmonies, and accomplished arrangements. They’ve continued despite the loss of Dan Bejar, whose more cryptic delivery contrasted with the more conventional songcraft of leader AC Newman. Their ninth album was constructed during the COVID pandemic, with the band working remotely in different studios. Newman raided their back-catalogue for inspiration, recycling previously unused tracks. The addition of saxophonist Zach Djanikian adds a different dimension to the band’s sound.
Continue as a Guest feels a little less ebullient than the band’s best work, perhaps reflecting its less organic origins. But the craftsmanship is still there, as are the harmonies of Newman, Neko Case, and Kathryn Calder. There are strong songs – the creatively titled ‘Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies’ moves along on a strong groove and a memorable hook, while ‘Firework in the Falling Snow’ thrives on its gentle tension. There are also pretty mellow tunes like ‘Bottle Episodes’ and the pretty harmonies of ‘Last and Beautiful’. But the band’s hit rate is lower thank usual – the title track is dull and the uncharacteristically straightforward sentiments of ‘Cat and Mouse with the Light’ spoil a promising tune.
Continue as a Guest is worthwhile, but Newman and company have released a string of better records earlier in their career.
Anna B Savage
While A.C. Newman’s been making records since the 1990s, Anna B Savage is a relative newcomer. in|Flux is just her second studio album, following 2020’s A Common Turn. Based in London, she has a distinctive sound – she adds a modern sheen to her bluesy guitar. Her lyrics are incisive, and her voice is haunting – she has a similar timbre to Jeff Buckley, without going to his extremes of range.
There are some memorable songs – opener ‘Ghost’ is ponderous and hushed, but its refrain of “stop haunting me, pleeeeease” is powerful and memorable. Savage is happier on ‘Crown Shyness’, where she sings “you’re in my dreams, an awful lot.” She’s witty on ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ – “Just call me Pavlov’s Dog/I’m here, I’m waiting, I’m salivating.” There’s a slight jazz tinge to tunes to like ‘The Orange’.
Savage has a gift for creating memorable verbal imagery – hopefully she’s still on an upward artistic trajectory.