‘Brill Bruisers’ delivers exhilarating take on power pop

The New Pornographers’ recently released album ‘Brill Bruisers’ updates their familiar sound with retro influences.photo courtesy of npr.com
The New Pornographers’ recently released album ‘Brill Bruisers’ updates their familiar sound with retro influences.photo courtesy of npr.com

The New Pornographers, A.C. Newman and Neko Case’s power pop super-group, is back, having released its sixth album Brill Bruisers to critical and popular acclaim last month. The Vancouver-based band formed in 1999 and claims Newman, Case, Dan Bejar and John Collins of Destroyer, Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine, Kurt Dahle and Todd Fancey of Limblifter and filmmaker Blaine Thurier as members. Newman’s description of the album as “a celebration record” rings true. He explains, “We wanted [the roller-disco musical] Xanadu and we wanted [British new wave band] Sigue Sigue Sputnik, which translated into sparklier and faster.” Case’s description of a great pop song is also apt for the album. “Do you want to hear it over and over again?” she asks, “Do you feel like singing along to it? Does it have that strange, kind of uplifting feeling?” Indeed, Brill Bruisers has just this effect.

The album title, “Brill Bruisers,” cues brilliance both of light and mind, boxing and the famous Brill Building, a hub of the music industry in New York. Newman has spoken of “the whole idea of being a brilliant bruiser,” adding, “Isn’t that what everybody ultimately strives for, or what a person needs to succeed in this world? To be really intelligent and really strong at the same time? It just seemed to match this group of songs somehow.”

The first track immediately grabs listeners and propels them through the album. Nonsense syllables and Newman’s enthusiastic voice shout exuberantly here. The album loses no steam with the second track, one of the best songs in the collection, “Champions of Red Wine.” The song lightly overlays Case’s vocalization of obscure yet poignant lyrics onto driving synthesizers and bass. “Backstairs” sounds like Daft Punk, heavily utilizing vocal synthesizers, and “Born With a Sound,” featuring Amber Webber’s earnest vocals, is reminiscent of the driving guitars of ’90s rock. “Hi-Rise” sounds like it borrowed sounds from Super Mario Bros. and “You Tell Me Where” from a classic arcade game. “Marching Orders” and “Spidyr” twinkle while “Dancehall Domine” bounces.

In addition to its captivating melodies, Newman’s versatile and affective lyrics distinguish The New Pornographers as more than just another pop band. This album feels like a personal triumph for the songwriters, and their lyrics have broad appeal. Songs like “Backstairs” and “Born With a Sound” may literally be about musicians, but their lyrics and moods are universal. “Wide Eyes” and “Fantasy Fools” may have been inspired from Newman’s embrace of getting older and having children, but neither song is burdened by heavy literalism.

It is clear that members of The New Pornographers care about the craft of each complex song. This attention to detail is evident in the ordering of Brill Bruisers’s 13 unique tracks. The album is best listened to in full and in order, so as to appreciate the entire built experience of varying mood and implication. “Another Drug Deal of the Heart” is a welcome but brief respite from the album’s pace, and “Born With a Sound” builds anticipation for the album’s return to exuberance. Even small repetitions between songs, such as the wine that appears in the track after “Champions of Wine” and the cardinal directions in both the east of “War on the East Coast” and west in “Backstairs,” make the album and its track list special. Songs alternate pleasantly between Case’s swooning voice and Newman’s enthusiastic and straightforward tone, as well as between acoustic- and synth-heavy songs. Ultimately, “You Tell Me Where” sends listeners away at the peak of fulfillment and enthusiasm. The album concludes triumphantly.

Brill Bruisers sounds a lot like the band’s previous albums, but in this case that familiarity is a good thing. Moving beyond all remnant solemnity from Challengers and Together, Brill Bruisers is a distilled delight. Like the rainbow neon on their album cover, Brill Bruisers is playful and a little retro, but those references to older styles are revitalized with this latest album’s electronic elements. Newman describes the record “stylistically as close as we can get to what I think I’ve always imagined us being.” The result is exhilarating melodies with punching and poignant lyrics – everything power pop should be. The album is available on CD and LP. A limited edition multi-colored “paint-splattered” vinyl LP is also available. The New Pornographers will tour this fall with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. 8.5/10 Reccommended if You Like: Camera Obscura, The Shins, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Electric Light Orchestra