There was a moment after the New Pornographers released their third album, 2005’s Twin Cinema, when it felt like the Vancouver supergroup would spend the rest of their days making album after album of near-perfect power-pop.
But the band lost some spark by the time they got to 2007’s lifeless Challengers. It didn’t fully return for 2010’s Together either. Had this funk occurred early on in their career, they might've folded and gone their separate ways, but the New Pornos were lucky enough to reach a third act.
With the release of 2014’s Brill Bruisers, they regained their mojo by going “sparklier and faster,” while utilizing synthesizers as more of a songwriting tool. Now their seventh album, Whiteout Conditions, finds the band exploring synths even further, as well as non-traditional rock drumming. Lead Porno Carl Newman has described the new sound as “bubblegum Krautrock” and it’s an accurate tag.
If it weren’t for their seemingly effortless ability to deliver pop hooks, Whiteout Conditions might be too experimental for fans. Newman, Neko Case and Kathryn Calder, however, all manage to ensure these ambitious songs remain accessible via candy-coated vocals. The way they all duet on the amorphous, drumless We’ve Been Here Before, or use their voices on the Stereolabish Juke, break new ground for a band often written off as strictly power-pop.
That isn’t to say they've abandoned their trademark sound. This Is The World Of The Theatre, High Ticket Attractions, Avalanche Alley and the title track not only trace familiar ground but are also some of their strongest offerings to date.
Perhaps the greatest achievement, though, is that the New Pornos made this strong album without any contributions from co-founding singer/songwriter Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer), who has contributed idiosyncratic diversity to previous albums. He bowed out this time because he was in a different songwriting frame of mind.
But unless you’re only listening for Bejar, Whiteout Conditions should not only satisfy but also open your mind to just how versatile the New Pornographers can be.
The New Pornographers play Massey Hall with Born Ruffians on October 14.