The New Pornographers is an indie super group, made up of some of Vancouver’s coolest indie names and members from some of Vancouver’s coolest 90s bands… Apparently. That’s what I’ve read, but with no real experience with Canadian indie rock from the 90s, the only New Pornographer I’m even a little aware of is Neko Case. But that didn’t stop me getting a little obsessed with their 2003 album Electric Electric when I stumbled across it four or five years ago. I love it and still listen to it regularly today. But for some reason, I never felt compelled to seek out more. Why? Buggers me. But the time has come to listen to their debut, Mass Romantic.
The titular opener is a Case lead rocker that made me realise immediately why I love Electric Electric so much, and feel even guiltier about not listening to Mass Romantic earlier. Then it’s an immediate left turn into The Fake Headlines, all folk guitars and accordion with an indie edge, before the electric guitars, organ and vocal harmonies kick in.
There’s a percussive approach to the guitars on Mass Romantic. And on a song like Mystery Hours, it’s that percussive drive that keeps the indie guitar jangle from ever getting anywhere near twee or precious.
Mass Romantic, and everything I’ve heard from The New Pornographers for that matter, is also a great example of collaboration at its best. This is a band of personalities strong enough to lead other bands or pursue solo careers, but somehow those egos never seem to get in the way.
The one, two punch of Jackie and Letter From an Occupant show these individual personalities both shining through, and working togetherin the perfect mixture. Things can get loud and rocky when Case is at the fore, then a little more poppy when Dan Bajur takes control. But at all times, it still sounds like the same band.
When Case, Bajur and Carl Newman all band together to handle vocal duties on The Wild Homes, it sounds like three different people all contributing in different ways to one song. A rocking chorus, fun, jittery versus, anthemic bridges and so many differing attitudes. All this, while avoiding the seeming inevitably of becoming a schizophrenic mess.
On an album full of plenty of lightness, it’s a real surprise to hear the positivity knocked up several notches late on the track listing with The Mary Martin Show. It’s up tempo, it bounces along and the organ makes it sound like it was recorded soaring through the clouds at a thousand kilometres an hour. Or maybe it just put the image in my head of old, 16bit Sonic the Hedgehog footage being set to this song, then put on Youtube. Someone should really do that.
The New Pornographers is pristine indie, pop, rock at its most precise. Yet at no time, does that precision rob it of any personality or heart. Every song on Mass Romantic is so perfectly executed that if ever I ever thought Electric Electric was a one off or fluke, that thought would never cross my mind now.
All of that sycophantic hyperbole doesn’t mean I think this is a perfect album or one of the best ever made. It just means it’s the kind of album that seems to me that it accomplished everything The New Pornographers set out to accomplish. It’s just so fully formed, that even if I didn’t like the songs, I’d have to respect the overall results. But I do really like the songs. So that’s a bonus.