New Pornographers “Brill Bruisers” — Candidate for Indie Album of the Year

30 Sep

New Pornographers is a Canadian indie power-pop/rock collective that consists of A.C. Newman, Blaine Thurier, Dan Bejar, John Collins, Kathryn Calder, Neko Case, and Todd Fancey.

This is worth knowing from the start because New Pornographers is not your typical indie band. Sure, in the indie world, there’s a lot of artist sharing and collaboration on albums because few make rock-star salaries, so artists sometimes are involved in several projects simply to make ends meet.

But New Pornographers was built from the beginning to be a super-group collective, a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for the 2000s. All of the people in the band were well-established indie artists with projects of their own before coming together for that first New Pornographers album. Bejar continues to be the frontman for Destroyer, with 10 albums to their credit. Case is a very successful solo artist, with six studio albums. Newman has released three solo albums in addition to his work with several other indie bands. Thurier is a noted filmmaker.

So, like C, S, N & Y — they gathered in Vancouver and in 2000, the New Pornographers released Mass Romantic. Little did they know that would be the beginning of a 14-year journey that continues today with the release of Brill Bruisers, one of the best indie albums of 2014.

On Brill Bruisers, the seven indie artists have never sounded more comfortable with one another and the band’s identity. The album features 13 tracks of power-pop and rock that bring the New Pornographers into the new world of synth-driven sounds. Thurier’s keyboards are amazing and as much a signature of this album as the powerful lead vocals and confident, creative songwriting.

The title track opens the album with a bang! It almost sounds as if you’ve turned your radio on in the middle of the chorus. All the instruments are at full volume, and the hook is infectious from first listen.

On the second track, “Champions of Red Wine,” we get our initial taste of how foundational the synthesizer will be to this album — in addition to the first appearance of Case as lead vocalist. (Incidentally, Case is only an honorary Canadian — she was born in the U.S.)

Newman set out to create a record that paid homage to the power-pop songwriting of the 1960s — much of which came out of offices in the Brill Building in Manhattan – hence the alliteration of Brill Bruisers. But at the same time, he wanted to ensure that the music was contemporary with all the right indie nuances. Enter the swirling, burbling, video game- and slot machine-sounding synths (technically, synth riffs made with arpeggiators — isn’t technology great?!) that debut in “Champions of Red Wine.”

In “War on the East Coast,” the synths create a thrumming bottom that is very reminiscent of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” The result is a powerful pop anthem, even if there’s one FCC no-no in the lyrics that will keep it from being played on the radio without editing.

“Marching Orders” is another great cut with strong lead vocals from Case, swirling synths running up and down scales, and big drums in a march-like rhythm…duh.

“Born with a Sound” has an alternative rock feeling and nice interplay between male and female voices in the vocals. “Dancehall Domine” is the hardest rock track on the album, with distorted guitars and pounding drums. And “Hi-Rise” is a playful song with a synth soundtrack right out of your Nintendo game.

The album ends with “You Tell Me Where,” with Newman and Case singing, “You tell me where to be, I’ll be there,” over and over again. That’s what old friends do — gather in special places from time to time. And in the case of the New Pornographers, this leads to albums such as Brill Bruisers, assuredly one of 2014’s best.

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