Canadian indie rockers The New Pornographers have been remarkably consistent in the ten years they’ve been churning out LPs. The high quality was there right from day one: their debut effort, Mass Romantic, was a common inclusion in ‘best of the decade’ lists – Blender went as far as to include it at number 24 on an all-time indie rock list – and the ensuing three albums were also excellent.
The Pornographers do power pop better than just about anyone; rarely does a band make the listener feel as exhilarated as I did upon hearing “The Bleeding Heart Show” from 2005’s Twin Cinema. Even now, five years on, I could listen to it on an endless loop and still feel the same way.
While there’s nothing to outdo that on Together, their fifth studio album, it’s more of what we’ve come to expect from the New Pornographers: an excellent album. What makes that even more remarkable is that most of the band members are simultaneously managing to enjoy success in their respective solo careers – Neko Case, in particular – but none of that seems to detract from the Pornographers’ output.
2007’s Challengers was perhaps their weakest album yet, and by weakest I mean a grading in the region of a B, just as this site awarded it, so it would be harsh to call this a ‘return to form.’ But if they missed the quota of “hooks and memorable moments” then, there could be no such criticism levelled at Together.
That is apparent right from the outset, as the AC Newman-led “Moves,” helped by a cello part masquerading as rhythm guitar, hits the sort of hair-standing-on-end-heights expected with a typically huge chorus.
One criticism of Challengers was that the undeniable talent of Neko Case was underused and that trend continues here. Despite taking the reins for a couple of standout tracks, for the most part she takes a backseat on this disc. Though those rare moments of Case goodness are indeed superb: the cello returns for “Crash Years,” a catchy cut even if you subtract the whistling, and her vocals turn “My Shepherd,” with its typically cryptic lyrics, into another high point.
Another reason The New Pornographers work so well is that the songs penned by Dan Bejar’s are distinctly different from the work of AC Newman, who is responsible for the most of The New Pornographers’ material. Here Bejar provides the undeniably catchy “Silver Jenny Dollar,” as well as the restrained “If You Can’t See My Mirrors.”
Making guest appearances on the record are Beirut’s Zach Condon, St. Vincent, and Will Sheff from Okkervil River, but given the large talent pool that makes up the band itself (eight members, at last count), you’d be forgiven for not noticing.
Previous Pornographers albums have required time and repeated listens in order for me to really fall for them, but that wasn’t the case with Together. This is one that begs for a second listen the moment you’ve finished your first.
This may just be the finest record they’ve produced to date, but it would be pointless to spend time debating that fact; it would be splitting hairs, such is the strength of their previous work. Instead the focus should be on ten years of excellence from The New Pornographers. Hopefully there’s another decade to come.