The New Pornographers — In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (Sept. 27, 2019)
↔★••→ Album je, přinejmenším podle typických power~popových standardů skupiny, těžší, temnější záležitost. Canadian indie rockers return in september with their eight album.
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Genre: Indie rock, power pop
Album release: September 27, 2019
Record Label: Concord Records
01 You’ll Need A New Backseat Driver 4:15
02 The Surprise Knock 3:12
03 Falling Down The Stairs Of Your Smile 3:45
04 Colossus Of Rhodes 4:04
05 Higher Beams [Explicit] 4:06
06 Dreamlike And On The Rush 4:12
07 You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going 2:22
08 Need Some Giants 3:39
09 Opening Ceremony 3:00
10 One Kind Of Solomon 3:55
11 Leather On The Seat 4:33
• Carl Newman — vocals, guitar (solo artist (as A.C. Newman), also of Superconductor and Zumpano) (1997~present)
• Neko Case — vocals (solo artist, also of Maow, The Corn Sisters, and Cub) (1997~present)
• John Collins — bass (The Evaporators and Destroyer) (1997~present)
• Blaine Thurier — keyboards, synthesizer (independent filmmaker) (1997~present)
• Todd Fancey — lead guitar (solo artist (as Fancey) and of Limblifter) (2003~present)
• Kathryn Calder — vocals, keyboards, guitar (solo artist and of Immaculate Machine and Frontperson) (2005~present)
• Joe Seiders — drums, vocals (Beat Club) (2014~present)
• Simi Stone — violin, vocals (solo artist and of Suffrajett) (2019~present; touring member 2015~2019)
By Jeremy Winograd. September 17, 2019. Score: ★★★½
The album is, at least by the group’s typical power~pop standards, a heavier, murkier affair.
•• Since their inception, the New Pornographers have often been labeled a “supergroup.” Since A.C. Newman’s voice and guitar has rarely hogged the spotlight, it’s been easy to overlook the fact that he’s very much the mastermind behind the Canadian indie rock band’s coherent, but transcendently harmonious, pop sound. As a co~producer, he’s always displayed a nearly Brian Wilson~level gift for melding the group’s dizzying arsenal of talents, from Neko Case’s clarion alto to Dan Bejar’s quirky change~of~pace songs.
•• In the Morse Code of the Brake Lights is the band’s second album without Bejar and original drummer Kurt Dahle. But whereas 2017’s Whiteout Conditions buzzed along in familiar New Pornos fashion, with a bright, fizzy krautrock vibe and an equitable mix of vocalists, Brake Lights is, at least by the group’s typical power~pop standards, a heavier, murkier affair, with Newman’s voice sitting front and center for much of its duration. It doesn’t sound like one of Newman’s more intimate, acoustic~focused solo albums, exactly — too many orchestral flourishes, hyperactive keyboards, and Case showcases for that — but at least half of it feels more like A.C. Newman & Friends than any of the band’s previous efforts.
•• This has its benefits, introducing new shades to the New Pornos palette. Most of the band’s albums commence with a hopped~up drumbeat or a blaring guitar riff, but Brake Lights’s opening track, “You’ll Need a Backseat Driver,” begins instead with a disorienting minor~key swirl of tremolo guitar and plinking noises that takes a few seconds to lock into rhythm. A sugar~rush of a chorus arrives soon enough — not to mention a delicious circular bassline by John Collins — but the song’s darker, clanging style does enough to establish that this album isn’t going to be offering up more of the band’s usual high~art pop.
•• Even lyrically, “You’ll Need a Backseat Driver” establishes a new tone via a repeated refrain (which provides the album’s title), hinting that Newman is trying to send a clear message this time around. The nature of his wordplay is typically such that it can be hard to tell if he’s actually writing about something or just rhyming complementary syllables. But it’s not difficult to parse the political malaise that hangs over songs like “Need Some Giants” and the majestic slow jam “Higher Beams,” on which Newman offers a pointed “Fuck you for nothing.”
•• Many of the album’s charms are indeed born of the unexpected. “Colossus of Rhodes,” the band’s blusteriest track to date, rumbles along like the Hindenburg on a crest of concert~style piano, gurgling synths, and dramatic string swells that would sound absurdly overblown if not for Case belting the hell out of it with her peeling cathedral bell of a voice. The band also retreats somewhat from the heavy electronic focus of their last two albums, featuring a liberal and compelling use of strings, which scrape and wobble throughout much of Brake Lights.
•• When the album strays from its relatively sober tone, though, it loses some of its punch. The series of characteristically hooky but cottony songs that comprise its latter half might have sounded less monotonous had they been broken up by an edgier Bejar track or two. The album would also benefit from Kurt Dahle’s superb, rhythmically complex drumming. Dahle’s touch is palpably missed on the trickier songs here, like the lurching “Dreamlike and on the Rush.”
•• “The Surprise Knock” is a euphoric rush of ecstatic guy/girl harmonies and crisp guitars that stands alongside the likes of “The Laws Have Changed,” “Twin Cinema,” and almost any other of the band’s classic 2000s singles. But the track’s inclusion here feels like a consciously retro move (“Why don’t we play this song like New Pornographers 2005?” Newman says in the album’s press notes). It only throws into relief that, after 20 years and various personnel changes, the New Pornographers are a different band than they used to be.
★•• Mass Romantic (2000)
★•• Electric Version (2003) #196 US
★•• Twin Cinema (2005) #44 US
★•• Challengers (2007) #34 US #156 UK
★•• Together (2010) #14 CAN #18 US #168 UK
★•• Brill Bruisers (2014) #14 CAN #13 US #132 UK
★•• Whiteout Conditions (2017) #82 CAN #35 US
★•• In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (2019)
AC Newman studio albums:
★•• The Slow Wonder (2004)
★•• Get Guilty (2009) #99 US
★•• Shut Down the Streets (2012) The album was named a longlisted nominee for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize on June 13, 2013. The album is a shortlisted nominee for the Juno Award for Adult Alternative Album of the Year at the Juno Awards of 2014.
•• Critically acclaimed group The New Pornographers’ forthcoming new album, In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights, is due September 27 via the band’s own Collected Work Records imprint in partnership with Concord Records.
•• “There are so many songs like ‘the something of love’ — you know, there’s ‘The Book of Love,’ ‘The Freeway of Love’…Then I thought of ‘falling down the stairs of your love,’ and I thought, that kind of works,” explains New Pornographers front person and songwriter A.C. Newman,who also produced the new album. “I think it has that element of how do you deal with the ideas of love and happiness in this world right now? When current events are stressful, that makes a stress on people’s relationships, and you’re trying to figure out how to be happy in this loving relationship in this world that seems ugly at every turn, which is not as easy as it seems. So I like the metaphor of love as something that you fall down.”
•• “I was about two~thirds of the way through the record when I began to notice that lyrically so much of it was pointing toward car songs,” notes Newman. “The opening track is ‘You’ll Need a Backseat Driver,’ and that was a metaphor that seemed to be running through other songs, too. Next to the love song, I feel like the car song is one of the most iconic kinds of songs in pop music, from Chuck Berry to the present. There was so much of that throughout it that I started thinking: ‘Oh, no, there’s too many references to cars on this record!’ And then I thought, ‘No, that's good — people might think it’s a concept album.’”