Despite the fact that 2007's Challengers wound up becoming a better album as time went on, most people still viewed it as a disappointment in comparison to the near-flawless Twin Cinema. Those same people should be pleased then with the latest from A.C. Newman's group of power-poppers, Together. Eschewing Challenger's eccentricities for the more mainstream and catchy aspects of Twin Cinema, Together is more of a return to form than a reinvention. Songs like "Crash Years" and "Your Hands (Together)" come crashing down on the listener like a giant reminder of what made The New Pornographers such an endearing act to begin with. They parallel classics like "Sing Me Spanish Techno" or "Electric Version" flawlessly, and inspire such a visceral joy that repeat listens are almost guaranteed.
Neko Case regains a little bit of the spotlight that she lost on Challengers, and the result is nothing short of amazing. Her performance on "My Shephard" rivals some of her best solo work, and her vocals on "Up In the Dark" play flawlessly with Newman's, easily creating one of the best songs that the group has ever put together. Dan Bejar's songs are just as amazing. "Silver Jenny Dollar" may lack some of the lyrical charm of "Myriad Harbour," but the rest of the band makes up for that small misstep with flawless performances that keep the song interesting. "Daughter of Sorrow" is even better, but there's hardly any disguising that this is a Destroyer song dressed up in New Pornographers clothing. It has got all the grandeur of Bejar's greatest songs (think "European Oils" from Destroyer's Rubies), but completely overpowers his solo work with the help of his bandmates. I love it!
Together isn't all pomp and fanfare, however. Newman takes a few opportunities to slow things down and get emotional. "Valkyrie in the Roller Disco" is easily the most gorgeous song to release in 2010 thus far. Its subdued beauty is unparalleled by any other song the band has ever recorded (yes, even "Challengers"). When Neko and Newman sing, "Valkyrie don't go home/ It's not right/ Not right/ Leave with the lights up," it hits you in the gut and forces an emotional response. The drums and guitars are relegated to simple background duties, but Kurt Dahle absolutely nails the percussion here! When it comes in, it's just enough to heighten the song to another level. Amazing stuff, really.
A friend of mine commented on Facebook that Together is the best album the band has made since Twin Cinema. That's just a fancy way of saying that it's better than Challengers. Still, I'm compelled to agree with him on this one. Together is the New Pornographers album that all of us wanted after Twin Cinema. It is far more focused than its predecessor, presenting the listener with songs that aren't going to push any boundaries but still manage to excite. Some may be turned off by the band's insistence on sticking with the tried and true formula that has brought them such success, especially after Challengers' seemed to signal a slight change of direction. For what it's worth though, Together is a flat-out awesome album that rivals some of The New Pornographers' greatest work. Hearing it is like having an old friend write to tell you they're coming to visit. You're not entirely surprised by their arrival when they show up, but it's still nice to see them.
1. "Crash Years"
2. "Your Hands (Together)"
3. "My Shephard"
4. "Up in the Dark"
5. "Valkyrie in the Roller Disco"
9 out of 10 Stars