Wealth of riches fuels rock band New Pornographers
Sep. 17, 2014
NEW YORK (AP) — Soft-spoken A.C. Newman doesn't seem like a braggart. Yet he feels so strongly that his rock band, the New Pornographers, has just made its best work that a simple good review won't do.
"I haven't seen any negative reviews," Newman said. "But I find myself getting pissed off at reviews that I don't think are positive enough."
"Brill Bruisers," the group's sixth album and its first in four years, lays it on thick. Guitars, voices and electronic flourishes inspired by early-1980s Electric Light Orchestra are piled into high-energy power pop songs that use all of the New Pornographers' considerable strengths. It debuted at No. 13 on Billboard's top album chart.
Newman is the ringmaster of the eight-piece band, frequently referred to as an indie-rock supergroup because some of its members flourish elsewhere. Singer Neko Case has a solo career that overshadows the band, while singer-songwriter Dan Bejar leads the well-regarded Destroyer.
Newman said the New Pornographers initially signed a lousy recording deal because they thought their first album, 2000's "Mass Romantic," would also be the last. But their stutter-step sound and vocal blend proved popular, and it became a priority for members to keep it going. This week, however, the band announced that drummer Kurt Dahle was quitting.
Case could easily concentrate on her solo work instead of singing and shaking a tambourine for a band whose sound is much different than her own. Newman tracked Case down in Austin last year to record some of Case's vocals during a break in her solo tour.
"It never felt abnormal and I really haven't known it any other way," Case said. "I can't imagine one without the other, to be honest."
Much of the work was done at Newman's home studio in Woodstock, New York with bass player and producer John Collins; the full band was never in the same place during its recording. The sound is a return to the faster tempos of the first two discs that Newman had moved away from, in part to try something different. There are no ballads.
They made heavy use of the arpeggiator, a synthesizer tool that piles patterns of notes on one another. Stacked vocals are another signature; it sounds like a full choir singing ba-ba-ba-ba's on the radiant title cut.
"Sometimes I have a fierce idea of what I want it to sound like, but it's also nice to go, 'do whatever. You're a great singer and you have a great knack for harmony, so just sing something,'" Newman said. "Sometimes I think I'm just winging it."
He recorded several vocals behind his lead for the song "Champions of Red Wine," then upon reflection found Case's detached tone fit the lyric better. So he stripped the other voices away — including his own — to give her the lead.
Many acts use a lot of electronic instruments and studio wizardry while others rock out with guitars and drums. The New Pornographers' niche, particularly on "Brill Bruisers," combines the two, Newman said. His voice together with Case, Kathryn Calder and guest vocalist Lindsay "Coco" Hames formed a modern-day wall of sound during a recent performance in New York. Bejar wandered on and off stage to take lead vocals on the four or five songs he wrote.
As with some of his colleagues, Newman releases solo albums. But he no longer feels a sense of impermanence about the New Pornographers.
"As long as somebody wants to hear the records and there's somebody who wants to put 'em out, I'll want to do it — even if it means we switch gears and become a band that just plays every once in a while," he said. "I love doing it. It's essentially my life's work, so why would I want to give it up?"
David Bauder can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder.