THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
THE GRADE A-
BOTTOM LINE An avalanche of power-pop goodness
The New Pornographers have never sounded more like an indie-rock supergroup than they do right now.
Their new, well-named album, “Whiteout Conditions” (Collected Works / Concord), is a power-pop blizzard, one layer of sweet, harmonic goodness after another. The harmonies of Neko Case, A.C. Newman and Kathryn Calder accumulate so nicely, especially on the melancholy, but resolute “We’ve Been Here Before,” where the instrumentation is pared back enough to let their vocals shine.
For most of “Whiteout Conditions,” though, more is more, to the point that it sounds delightfully decadent. Even without singer-guitarist Dan Bejar, who sat out working on this album so he could finish his new Destroyer album, the band is seven strong and their power is felt.
“Play Money” is packed to the gills with cool. There’s a clever lyrical balance between being mercenary and being altruistic, as Case declares, “For a fee, I’ll fight any foe” and later “For a fee, I’ll right any wrong.” Musically, there are bloopy synths, driving guitars, AutoTuned accents and some unexpected harmonies — all working together to create a show of force.
The first single, “High Ticket Attractions,” finds the New Pornographers embracing Krautrock, like fellow Canadian collective Arcade Fire did on their last album. But Newman and Case are coming at it from a poppier viewpoint, allowing the dark groove to balance their chipper harmonies, as they worry, “This thing could go two ways.”
That feeling seems to fuel “Whiteout Conditions,” the idea of keeping a brave, smiling face while you prepare for serious battle. The title track feels like a new-millennium update of A Flock of Seagulls’ “Space Age Love Song,” the former’s synthesized simplicity remade in the image of today’s increased complications, where Newman frets about things going viral and “the waste of a beautiful day.”
But there’s no waste here. Every ambitious layer of “Whiteout Conditions” serves its purpose well.