It’s the hooks, stupid. It’s the hooks that make this album, Together, so damn fun. It’s the hooks that make The New Pornographers so catchy. Sure, there’s solid lyrical content sung by some of the great voices in aughts indie rock on this record. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s the hooks, stupid.
The New Pornographers have what is perhaps the least internet friendly name this side of hardcore metal – so much so that e-mails from their publicist come intentionally misspelled “The New Pronographers” to avoid spam filters. Remarkably, the band has managed to stay ahead of the NSFW content that follows hot on their heels – a timid google search comes up with remarkably music-related results.
Similarly, The New Pornographers have continued to stay ahead of the challenges faced by super-group type bands on their latest release. Rather than stagnating, splitting, or just plain old sucking, The New Pornographers have crafted a charming, unassuming pop album that is a plain old joy to listen to. No, it’s not as good as Twin Cinema. No, it’s not the best album released this year (or perhaps even this week). But it’s not supposed to be; forget ranks and lists, this is supposed to be fun.
The album opens with a heavy, Rasputina cello riff, soon joined by some lighter strings and drums to kick off “Moves.” It is the perfect complement to AC Newman’s crisp and airy voice, introducing the crux of what makes this album so successful – balance. With four qualified lead singers in Newman, Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, the band has a colorful palette to paint with, and they don’t hesitate to use it. Where Newman provides the spark for “Moves,” Neko runs things on “Crash Years,” Calder anchors “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” and Bejar’s growl fits perfectly on “If You Can’t See My Mirrors.” The tracks are diverse but cohesive, flirty but not superficial. Perhaps helping The New Pornographers avoid the fourth-album blues, the band even reaches outside of its own stock – singers from Beirut, St. Vincent, and Okkervil River (and a horn player from the Dap Kings) join the already formidable quartet to add some texture to Together.
But as the opening paragraph of this review pounds home, it’s not the singers that make this album a success. Say it with me: It’s the hooks, stupid. The album is chock full of singable riffs, hummable lines, and whistle-friendly choruses. At an all-too brief forty-four minutes, the album flies from catchy tune to catchy tune, rarely missing a beat or skipping an opportunity to get something stuck in your head. Together doesn’t overstay its welcome – to the contrary, every time it ends I think to myself, “That was quick” and, “That was fun.”
Is Together an all-time classic? No. But the nice thing is that I never get the feeling that The New Pornographers are trying very hard to create that daunting type of masterpiece. Instead, they are trying to put together a record that will bring a smile to your face – the type of album that will get some summertime spins and be associated with some fun times. “Your Hands (Together)” has the reckless energy of their most popular songs to date, without sounding like it’s aspiring to recreate past successes. “Moves” and “Crash Years” set the mood with electric melodies and sing-along verses to start the album, and Together never looks back. Rather than treading water The New Pornographers try out some new looks on the album. Hint: It looks good.
My favorite track on Together is a bit of an underdog - “Valkyrie In The Roller Disco.” It’s the slowest song on the record, taking a step back from the power pop that characterizes most of The New Pornographers’ catalog. During the ballad, Newman and Case sing the line “it’s half for me, half for love.” I can’t help but feel like that line describes Together perfectly – half created for the listener, yes, but also half created out of love for this type of music. That selfish lack of concern for wide appeal and acclaim is exactly what makes this album deserve it.
76 — Great. A stand-out in its genre. Multiple listens demanded! [Rating Scale]
To enter to win a copy of this album on vinyl (or CD), leave a comment with your thoughts on the album, rate the album and "like" PMA's Facebook Page. A winner will be picked at random on May 15th. Stream Togetherat NPR.