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Rob Huff

CD of The Week

Week of 4/10/17

    The New Pornographers - Whiteout Conditions (Concord)

    The New Pornographers have made a career churning out songs that seem so natural, it's like they've always existed. Carl Newman and company have released album after album, seven now in total, teeming with catchy melodies and an overwhelming amount of hooks that just make sense. Pick any song from one album and it would sound appropriate on another. So why change a thing?

    In a recent interview with Noisey regarding their new album Whiteout Conditions, Newman confirmed that they were continuing to explore the style presented on their previous album Brill Bruisers, saying they were after a sort of "bubblegum krautrock" with "lots of melodies and harmonies." Lead single "High Ticket Attractions," proves that formula. Driving synth production and Newman's trademark platform-jumping vocal melodies paired with Neko Case help them reach their goal. And harmonies abound as well. At least one section in each song is harmonized, while songs like "Darling Shade" and "Juke" are sung completely in three-four part harmony.

    But one harmony is missing. The free-floating Dan Bejar does not appear anywhere on the new album. Newman has said that Bejar was in the mindset of writing "quiet songs" for his own Destroyer project. Bejar has always added a calculated chaser to Newman's high-octane pop songs, sometimes even having an album's best track. In his absence, Newman has managed to throw in distractions to break up his hook concentrate. "Second Sleep" constantly builds, yet never capitalizes on a natural chorus, leaving the listener to want more. And the near-a cappella vocal showcase of "We've Been Here Before" floats the listener out into space by removing analog instruments, focusing instead on harmony and sparse, sparkling synth.

    Synth is the word for now. There is an underlying synth heartbeat that seems to pulse throughout the entire record, making it feel like a soundtrack to Footloose, if it was set in a dystopian Blade Runner future. This may also be by design, as Newman has cited "Trump Panic" as his muse for "High Ticket Attractions" and "Avalanche Alley." Cold, detached synth naturally pairs well with apocalyptic times. 

    But who are they kidding? They're from Canada. The worst thing they need to worry about is being allowed into our country when their tour takes them to Union Transfer on April 27th with the wonderful Waxahatchee opening.

    **Donate $20 or more to Y-Not Radio this week to receive a copy of Whiteout Conditions on CD. Click here for details.

    Review by Shepard Ritzen

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