Sunday, April 12, 2009
the new pornographers bio
A.C. Newman - Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Wurlitzer, Casio, Mandolin, Percussion, Bass, Melodion
John Collins - Bass, Baritone Guitar, Glockenspiel, Mandolin, Guitars, Casio, Tambourine
Kurt Dahle - Drums, Vocals, Percussion
Blaine Thurier - Fender Rhodes, Sampler
Todd Fancey - Guitars, Banjo, Mandolin
Dan Bejar - Vocals, Shakers, Guitars, Piano
Neko Case - Vocals
Kathryn Calder - Vocals, Piano, Wurlitzer
A.C. ("Carl") Newman, for all the good-times vibe of his band The New Pornographers, likes his alone time. Last year he disappeared from Vancouver without a word, reappearing four months later in Brooklyn, where he has stayed ever since. He resurfaced with a mystery scar, an extra blush to one cheek, and an armload of songs which tell tales of his last two years.
Challengers continues along the lines of 2005's Twin Cinema, whose "relative melancholy makes it the band's best album yet" [Blender]; indeed, the first track, "My Rights Vs. Yours," is almost a cross between that album's beloved "Use It" and "The Bleeding Heart Show". Dialing back the frantic, these are songs with dynamics and epic sweep. While it's still a "top-down summer power-pop classic" (or any variation thereof that the band's enjoyed over the last several years), this is something more personal, more lasting.
Recorded for the first time largely outside John Collins' Vancouver JC/DC Studio, Challengers is their most organic-sounding record, reflecting a conscious decision to use less "beepy synth" and almost entirely "real" instruments (in addition to those listed above, they recruited an entire string section, plus harp, flute, and more). And Newman is slightly more scrutable this time around; his lyrics still ring with wry perception and political metaphor, but betray some of the magnanimity that comes with new love – "our arms fill with miracles", he writes in "Go Places," his most beautiful love song since "My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism."
My Rights Versus Yours: "This is a stream of consciousness story-of-my-life type of song. 1st appearance of french horn on a New Ps album, and only 30 seconds into the album! Ends with a nod to Jeff Lynne with the vocoded vocals."
All The Old Showstoppers: "This one has the string breaks that are a direct nod to Roy Wood's brilliantly primitive string work with The Move."
Challengers: "This one has a fairly convoluted subtext. At its surface it's a love song about finding new love out of nowhere and trying to play it cool, do the right thing. My version of '24 Hours To Tulsa'. When I wrote the lyrics I thought of the Camus quote from the liner notes to a Scott Walker album: 'A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to discover through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.'"
Myriad Harbour: "Dan's New York song. When I got the demo from him, I thought he purposely wrote a New York song because I had just moved to NY. Probably not, though. In this song, Dan urges me to 'look up for once and see just how the sun sets in the sky.' Two songs later, I sing that 'there is something unguided in the sky tonight.' Coincidence?"
All The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth: "I really liked the title. I thought it was very long and pretentious, not befitting a 3-minute rock song. This song is pretty much our take on an early Roxy Music/Sparks pastiche, with a little Shocking Blue thrown in. A sort of throwback to early New Ps."
Unguided: "My first true epic at over 6:30 in length. This is MY New York song, though no one can tell. It is all about August 2005, everything up in the air, it was very hot, and I was camping out in NY for a week. The big bridge at the end, 'why wait for the weakened state to lie next to the weaker sex?', has nothing to do with the rest of the song, just a good line/universal truth. Kathryn is embarrassed that she had to sing it, yet only she could nail it the way it had to be nailed."
Failsafe: "This is the first Kathryn lead vocal. I liked the idea of using a tremelo guitar to propel the song, where that becomes the beat as much as the drums."
Entering White Cecilia: "I believe Dan is singing about entering a girl named Cecilia, who is either white or dressed in white, or both. Like all of Dan's work, it is overtly sexual."
Go Places: "This is my version of 'Maybe I'm Amazed' crossed with 'She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune', at least in my head that's what I hear. I know it's still oblique, but to me it is a straight up love song. Bonus points to rock critics who can name two versions of 'She Sang Hymns'. Without Googling."
Mutiny, I Promise You: " I think this has the most Bacharach/Webb/Wilson in it, in terms of structure and time signature, all the added half-bars in the progression. We rocked it up quite a bit, but slowed down and with a few other changes, it could go on a 5th Dimension album. That's hubris, I know. The organ sound reminds me of the organ on 'Ambition' by Subway Sect, which I think is a good thing."
Adventures In Solitude: "This is a sad song, but filled with a kind of hope. Basically a double lead shared by Carl and Kathryn. With its strings, harp, banjo, and mandolin, it officially counts as a 'musical departure'."
The Spirit Of Giving: "This is a sad Dan song with less hope and more nonsequiturs. Or maybe it's a happy song?"
The New Pornographers formed in 1997, almost immediately recorded the classic "Letter From An Occupant," and it was on. Their three full-lengths (as well as Newman's 2004 solo debut The Slow Wonder) received wild critical and public acclaim, and they continue to enjoy bigger (and taller and smarter) audiences.