sat 14/12/2019

CD: The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights | reviews, news & interviews

CD: The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

CD: The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Neko Case substantially contributes to more allusive art-pop

New Pornographer-in-chief AC Newman grew up enraptured by how much and how little pop could be: from David Bowie shucking skins to the rush of the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”, to Pixies' boiling down of a song to three chords and a scream. Eight albums in, and Newman’s Vancouver art-power pop veterans retain the capacity of a tightly edited musical thesaurus, spinning out compacted melodies and metaphors and challenging the listener to keep up, ideally with a code-book.

The New Pornographers’ sometimes contentious personnel equation, always amorphous in their typically Canadian rock commune, this time confirms the subtraction of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, and adds considerable vocal input from their biggest and so semi-detached star Neko Case, stopping by from her tremendous solo career.

Just as the Iraq War seeped into the lexicon of early-century New Porn LPs such as Challengers, Newman now constantly suggests troubling times in the US, or the undermined democracy of your choice, especially in “Higher Beams”, where disquiet and anger penetrate the bubbling, anaesthetising synths. “Deep in the culture of fear/We all hate living here/But you know when you can’t afford to leave,” he sings. “You lost your train, but you’re high on the fumes.” As Newman once self-deprecated, “How serious can your message be when you’re delivering it with a pop song?” Allusive and elliptical aphorisms are his style. But the real world is between the lines.

“Colossus of Rhodes”, sung by Case with sugary exhilaration over the vertiginous slash and slide of Simi Stone’s strings, the tumbling New Wave keyboard attack of “One Kind of Solomon” and aqueous synth chimes of cautionary showbiz tale “Opening Ceremony” all have their strengths. John Collins’s bass remains the vitally imaginative root of these often epic and uplifting arrangements. Standing out starkly from it all is the minor key piano ballad “You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going”, with its mournful sense of threat, as a lover uses the roof of a runaway car as an absurd and unwise stage. In the end, all you can do is let Newman’s awkward melodic hooks sink in, and wonder again what exactly he’s telling you.

 

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