The New Pornographers: Electric Version
if you like this you'll like: Olivia Tremor Control, VU's Loaded, The Zombies, The Beatles, Destroyer, Flaming Lips.
REVIEW: The New Pornographers: Electric Version
The New Pornographers: Electric Version [Mint/Matador, 2003] (mp3s)
Three words? Pow! Whoosh! Craaaack!
We imagine pop music as something light and airy: sweet Beach Boys harmonies and cheery Beatles choruses. Fifty years of glossy one-hit wonders have inured us to breezy sing-along after breezy sing-along, each replete with smiling la-la-las and clever rhymes. Pop is music for picnics. For merry-go-rounds.
In 2001, the New Pornographers exploded into the world with Mass Romantic. They were a motley supergroup drawn from Vancouver's indie royalty: members of Zumpano, the Evaporators, Destroyer, and country-western's newest, brightest voice, Neko Case. What Mass Romantic affirmed - and what Electric Version repeats - is that pop music can contain an awesome delirious force; pop can throw you to the back of your seat, glue you there, blow your hair back. If pop music is a merry-go-round, the New Pornographers spin at three-hundred miles an hour. Psychedelic organ swirls around surges of electric guitar, fuelled by multitracked, megaharmonized, melodiously bellowed vocals.
Mass Romantic was a surprising debut, noisy and glad and smart: a summer rainstorm, happily tossing the picnic into a lake. It was so very sure of itself, loud and shameless. Electric Version does not so much bring things forward as stand taller still. It's The Zombies on amphetamines, Loaded-era Velvet Underground on a chilly, West Coast beach. The New Pornograpyhers are brazen, daring you to try and withstand the title track's chorus as it lunges out of the speakers. They win the bet every time.
Electric Version is somehow even more dense than its predecessor; while "Loose Translation" may recall the work of Elephant 6-ers Olivia Tremor Control or Beulah, it is several times more intense. The guitars are brandished like weapons, the bleeping synths like Kraftwerk when they put on their Hawaiian shirts. It is an enormous velocity of sound.
Though Neko Case gets a disproportionate amount of press, the vocals of group-leader Carl Newman (Zumpano) dominate the mix. Neverthless, the album's highlights are the tracks written-and-sung by Destroyer's Dan Bejar. Bejar no longer plays with the Pornographers at their live-dates - he moved away from Vancouver shortly after recording The Electric Version - but his contributions to the album are right at home: they're astonishing, worldly things. Whereas Destroyer's releases are messy, half-crazy bursts of rock'n'roll, here, Bejar's songwriting becomes absurd, Lewis Carroll-like fuel for pop majesty. His peculiar, rugged singing is a hypnotic contrast with "Chump Change"'s malted-milk doot doots; "Testament to Youth in Verse" is like Belle & Sebastian teamed with Weezer. That song's mock-choral finale ("The bells ring / no no no no no no no no") is a moment of melodic genius, a pop deus ex machina.
Electric Version is a record that can't be listened to at low volume; one so cheerfully soundful that it almost hurts. As a sequel to Mass Romantic it succeeds absolutely; while we weep over the demise of the Superfriendz and the growing pains of Sloan, the New Pornographers carry the Canadian Pop Torch like a marathon runner who daylights as a coffee-shop intellectual, like a band who have turned their Archies records up to 11, like some punk kids who are bowled-over and jubilant about the fresh tang of love.