Formed roughly ten years ago, the New Pornographers still find awakening audiences as they release Challengers, the group's fourth studio album. (They also released a live album in 2006). It is an album of 12 lush pieces of power pop that will pacify as well as invigorate. The band's home base of Vancouver, B.C., seems to have shifted when de facto leader A.C. Newman resurfaced in New York City. There are tiny nooks on Challengers in which you may nap; and a darkly lit dance floor to set the mind free, and climax.
Newman's Beach Boys meets Alan Parsons writing is performed with aplomb by a handpicked ensemble. Sonic euphoria is supplied on multiple instruments by Kurt Dahle, Katherine Calder, Blaine Thurier, John Collins, Dan Bejar, and Todd Fancey, as well as vocals, guitar, piano and more by Newman and vocals by Neko Case. The diversity of talent comprising the New P's explains their success in grafting the spaces between nuanced genres.
"Mutiny, I Promised You" recalls a time in the seventies when making rock albums could take on all of the unity and preparation of a classical orchestra. It fits well into the indie pop identity that is being carved out in the Pacific Northwest. "Go Places" is a passionate song with a bit of western guitar echo that I favor for the staggered vocal delivery, and the burst of guitar and drum that waits near 2 minutes to reveal itself.
The New Pornographers have cultivated a Brit sound on "Myriad Harbour," written by Bejar. "My Rights Versus Yours" is audibly Beach Boys-spiked with the melancholic truth of momentary selfishness. The title track explores woman and man en rendezvouz illicite. How calmly we handle ourselves in moments that we know stretch personal morality--leaving our past for the future, as they sing: "We are the challengers of the...unknown."
It is this sentiment that I am left filled with after hearing Challengers--and is perhaps indicative of the chasm between an over-generalized Canadian and American worldview. There is no glory in being overconfident if you fail to see the empirical truths of your surroundings. We are each deeply flawed individuals, capable of ebullient fits of expression. • Robert Karmin