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2010 release, the fifth album from Canadian-US collective The New Pornographers, featuring Neko Case and Destroyer's Dan Bejar, in addition to bandleader and chief songwriter A.C. Newman. Playing to all the New Pornographers strengths, Together combines the freewheeling, glammy spirit of their debut Mass Romantic with the very personal, emotional songwriting of their most recent material. As a result, it's an album that aims to please, as exciting for the New Pornographers obsessive as for casual new listeners.
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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
Their leader AC Newman is a melody maker supreme, spinning together sing along after sing along. Neko Case is arguably the best female indie/pop artist of the last five years. Her last two solo albums were on many year end top ten lists (deservedly so.) Her voice is sweeter than butterscotch. Dan Bejar is the x factor in the band taking his songs to creative and unusual places.
My favorite songs: The rousing Up in the Dark; the Belle and Sebastian-like You Can't See My Mirror; and finally the sing along closer, We End Up Together (could be this record's Bleeding Heart Show.)
If you're into indie-rock, new wave, pop, rock (hell, if you're into good music), you owe it to yourself to check out the latest from The New Pornographers. If you're already a fan, then I'm preaching to the choir... come to church and enjoy some good clean porn.
[update, July 21] I have had a complex relationship with this album. For a few weeks I have been telling friends it is my least favorite NP work. Then I saw them play most of the material in Oakland 3 days ago, and got a new level of understanding. Now ... is it my favorite? I dunno. Can't compare it to the earlier stuff or to anyone else in rock/pop. It's just a different and wonderful color to add to my listening palette. Listen to it LOUD!
This pop goes deeper and gets under your skin. Lines like, "Damage, I'm for damage, sweet damage" and "Like the rest of us, you've got those eternity blues" stay with you and haunt the sunny melodies. And then there is just the shear fun of "Somebody took a bite out of my bed -- you" or a song crafted out of the big rig warning, "If you can't see my mirrors."
Everyone is here in full force. Dan's songs flow seamlessly with Carl's to create a satisfying whole; when not taking the lead, Neko weaves deliciously and generously in and around Bejar and Newman; Kurt Dahle's drums once again splatter from your speakers; and, perhaps the best new development, Kathryn Calder arrives as an essential and distinct force in the band, especially on "Sweet Talk."
The album builds to a rousing finale of Neko shouting "ma-ma-ma-ma" over Carl singing "we end up together." For a band whose members put out such stellar "solo" material, it's amazing the music they still create together.
They hit the ground running with "Moves", "Crash Years", "Your Hands", "Silver Jenny Dollar" and "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk." It really is a very solid and well put "together" work. Carl and Neko's harmonies have never sounded better and Danny's tracks are very good, especially "Jenny" and "If You Can't See My Mirrors". The second half of the CD enters different territories. much like Twin Cinema did without a kick ass track like "Star Bodies", but there are some real gems here like "Up in the Dark" and "A Bite Out of My Bed." All in all, definitely worth buying since it's gonna be one of the best of the year and a must own for all New Pornographers fans.
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