Chris Donaghey
Reviews Editor
October 02, 2007
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Rock Music Reviews
The New Pornographers
Challengers

In a wonderful bizarro world, reality television would be obsolete, sushi consumption would be mandatory, and everyone's lives would be scored by the blissful melodies of The New Pornographers. This Canadian collective has caught on to the indie pop community, snapping and crackling like a brushfire, until 2005's universally acclaimed Twin Cinema brought their sound to the world with a bang. Now, everyone from peppy teenagers to college students of all ages (thanks to a University of Phoenix commercial) are jamming to Canuck power-folk of the highest caliber. Now, as Challengers is released, did the New Pornos break the mold again or pump out a potboiler for their wide-eyed legions of fans?

Oddly enough, the answer lies somewhere in between but thankfully, more toward the uplifting end of the spectrum. Those expecting the frenetic Burt Bacharach-on-meth hooks A.C. Newman has been famous for penning will be somewhat let down by the focused crystalline snap of Challengers. The rollercoasters of their classics like "Letter from an Occupant" and "The Laws Have Changed" are now elegant, calmly churning numbers about social struggles ("My Rights Versus Yours") and love in completely exposed bloom ("Go Places"). This new side of the band introduces us to a new word in the band's lexicon: subtlety. Effects may not be immediately palpated, but subsequent listens will clearly introduce the casual listener to colorful expanses of musical and literary intrigue.

However, with all the talk of maturation and toning it down a level, vociferous excitement remains in Newman's heart and soul in tunes like the damn near fist-pump-inducing "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth" and "Mutiny, I Promise You," a four-minute call to arms that seems to kickstart itself every five seconds with criminal precision. The rest of the crew doesn't just sit around either. Destroyer's Dan Bejar remains the black sheep who manages to gray himself just enough so that his syllabic galaxies orbit the rest of the group in a palatable fashion. One of Destroyer's most poppy b-sides "The Spirit of Giving" is given a glossy sheen by Kathryn Calder (a previous guest vocalist turned into a full-time crooner with serious depth), violins, and a trumpet, building his original lo-fi version into a torrent. And anyone who is remotely familiar with chanteuse Neko Case knows that any song that involves her will draw in even the most critical ears, so it almost goes without saying that the aforementioned "Go Places" and "Challengers" have immediate value even though the pace and weight of the melody hold Case in check a bit too much.

A.C. Newman and the rest of the gang may not be the peppy groundbreakers they once were. There are multiple songs here that won't turn the heads of many old-school New Pornos devotees due to the simple fact that they are not nearly as immediate. Though after the last note is strummed and the voices fade like the last voices after graduation, Challengers will be a piece that demands revisiting and chronicling. They still know how to consistently make some damn good songs. And honestly, it's hard to ask for more than that.

Release date: August 21, 2007
Label: Matador
Rating: 7.9 / 10

On the web: http://www.thenewpornographers.com
[RMR]