Most reviews of Brill Bruisers, the 6th album by Canada’s New Pornographers, focus on this being a return to form “their best since Twin Cinema”. This is only half true, it is their best album since Twin Cinema but as their last two albums were both excellent as well I see it more as a continuation of consistently good form.
Brill Bruisers does seem to be a return in some respects, retaining the slight melancholy of the last two albums but restoring some of the more high-tempo pop elements from the earliest recordings. This is widescreen pop, lots of guitars, lots of keyboards, pounding drums and LOTS of voices. You only have to listen to the brilliant title track to be sucked in by the multiple vocal tracks blending perfectly together.
AC Newman retains the bulk of the lead vocals here, and writes the majority of the tunes, but also hands vocals (backing and lead) to regulars Neko Case and Kathryn Calder. Their voices on the albums “slowy” ‘Champions of Red Wine’ being pitch perfect stuff. Additionally we get vocal assistance from Neko’s bandmate Kelly Hogan on four tracks and Amber Webber of Lightning Dust dueting with Dan Bejar on ‘Born With a Sound’.
Dan Bejar provides three tracks here and they are all excellent additions and a nice change of texture from the Newman songs on the record. Lead single ‘War on the East Coast’ being a great slice of power-pop and showing another side to the enigmatic Bejar in the process.
However, as much as this is a real band effort, and one where each member does their job brilliantly, a New Pornographers’ album is only ever going to be as good as Newman’s songwriting and his choice of arrangements. The good news is that things are looking good in both those departments, with this being an album that has no quality dips from start to finish. What it might lack in the sparkling surprises of those first three albums is an overall sound and quality throughout the run.
That isn’t to say that the album holds no surprises, even for a seasoned fan of the band. ‘Drug Deal of the Heart’, sung by Kathryn Calder, is short and simple (eschewing the more showy approach of the rest of the album) and sounds like a Magnetic Fields song (or a 6ths song at least).
It may be an album without dips, but it does have peaks, not least the double punch of ‘Wide Eyes’ and ‘Dancehall Domine’. The former showing Newman’s genius at holding back Neko Case’s vocals to a small part in a song where the obvious thing would have been to smother it. Less really can be more. The latter is just brilliant guitar pop with brilliant pop vocals and perfectly encapsulates Newman’s approach to producing a modern twist on glam rock. And by glam rock we are looking at a sweep of music that goes all the way from ELO to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, the latter being an act that are rarely quoted as influences. But if Newman wants to look to Sigue Sigue Sputnik and then produce an album this good then it is clearly a much better idea than it looks on paper.
By Dorian Rogers