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The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema

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This is not the old New Pornographers, this is the New Pornographers +1 (or two, considering they added two members to their already sizeable lineup for this album). Not to say that if you didn’t enjoy their previous two albums, Mass Romantic and Electric Version, you won’t like this one… but it is definitely different. Where the Vancouver ensemble’s older albums are upbeat, bouncy, shake-your-ass marathons of sound, this album is a little slower, a little more thoughtful, a little toned down.

Now, I’m no NP devotee (fans, you may begin hating me in 3.. 2… 1), but I do keep several of their songs in heavy rotation on my most-used playlists. When my best pal Jason dropped this off for me tonight, I regarded it with a sigh and left it by the computer for a casual net-surfing listen. By the second time through, I was sold. For me, this is by no means a great, can’t miss it album, but I have a feeling NP will be heard a little more frequently in the Monkeyhouse from here on out.

First, from the thumbs down portion: The title track, which opens the album, just doesn’t do it for me. For the most part, I think NP really shine when the female vocalists step in to take the forefront. As this album is calmer and lighter than their previous releases, the vocals really needed to stand out a little more… and that really only coms through when Neko Case takes the mic, in my opinion. I’m similarly meh on “Broken Beads.” It’s rather shrill and repetitive to my ear, though it does feature some interesting lyrics. Just not a standout tune compared to some of the others. (That isn’t to say I didn’t find myself singing along… damn you, catchy pop music! I shake my fist in your general direction!)

However, the third song, “Use It” is where I start loving the fellas of NP again, just as much as I love the ladies. “Use It” grabbed my attention immediately. The staccato beat, which NP doesn’t claim credit for (riffs from Iron Maiden and KISS are made over here with power pop glitz), is pitch perfect, and this tune features some of the most interesting lyrics on the album. How can you argue with “two sips from the cup of human kindness and I’m shitfaced?” You can’t. But I was sold from “If you’ve got something that sheds some light/use it tonight.” While a lot of the lyrics on Twin Cinema seem a little mindless (it’s pop, kids, it ain’t Shakespeare), this song really showcases the NP’s songwriting abilities.

On my first spin through the Twin Cinema, however, the song that really grabbed my attention and made me pay attention to what I was listening to was “These are the Fables,” a dreamy groove that really shows off the range of the superb Neko Case. The second or third time through this song, you’ll catch yourself singing along. I dare you to resist.

10,000 dancing girls kicking
cans across the sky
No reason why

Oh, I know why. Because Neko Case is amazing.

The song that immediately follows, however, is a little disappointing. “Sing Me Spanish Techno” needed a more standout vocal; again, that’s my only real complaint with the album. The vocal track just fades back into the song, bursting out only occasionally, but the energy doesn’t last. It just seems a little muddled, which is a shame. This could have been a really great song and is instead merely pretty good.

Other standouts are “Three or Four,” sung by Case and A.C. Newman’s niece, Kathryn Calder, a new addition to the band. They harmonize happily, girlishly over a jagged beat and the result is sharp indeed. But if I were forced to play only one song from the album in an attempt to explain what The New Pornographers were all about, I’d choose “Falling Through Your Clothes,” an ethereal puff of sound that’s something of a departure from the rest of the album (very minimalist), but manages to make the best use of every part of the ensemble. This is the smoothest track on the album, and the song most likely to make you want to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling with the volume cranked as you watch your daydreams play out across the plaster.

The final song, “Stacked Crooked,” is another high point on the album, and the perfect choice to wind down. The rest of the album is summed up here in a lip-biting, hopeful song that builds to a perfect pop crescendo before winding down again to the final lines, a plea for a moment of magic that leaves the listener a little wistful in a satisfied sort of way.

Do not, do not deny my
Attention to detail
Do not, do not deny me
the clicking of the heels

Indeed. Would that everything had such a pat ending.

Before I heard the album, I read a review comparing one of the songs, and I’ve now forgotten which, to something from Jesus Christ Superstar… and I thought okay, whatever, you’ve got to be kidding me. But that was pre-listen. There’s a major hippie vibe to this album indeed. By the time I gave it a couple of spins, I wanted to braid flowers into my hair and go have a lie-down in a meadow somewhere with with couple of really mellow cats and an orange glass bong.

Twin Cinema may not sell every listener on the first go-round, but pop it into your car in the morning and I guarantee that by the time you’re halfway through your evening commute, you’ll be singing along and bobbing in your seat. It’s not quite the album of the year, as it’s being lauded by some dedicated fans, but it’s happy-funtime music with a few sharp edges here and there.

Miz Monkey’s final word: Solid, but for the love, less Newman and more of the ladies!

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About Alisha Karabinus

  • The Theory

    Ok, I adore this album to death. It’s been on practical non-stop play for me since the begining of this month. I think there are probably 7 songs that I could probably call ‘the greatest thing ever.’

  • It IS pretty damned catchy. I listened to it many, many times last night and caught myself running through the parts of “Use It” I could remember this morning while at work.

  • John

    Anyone have the lyrics for this CD? If so please e-mail me a link or something. I like this album a lot…although it took me a few listens to start liking it. I agree though, the lyrics need to stand out more. I really can’t hear a word they are saying on most tracks, which is why I am looking for the lyrics. I thought for a momment maybe I got a dud CD that was not mixed the way it should have been. Come on New Porno’s let us hear those great lyrics of yours. Jesh. Any comments? E-mail me!

  • LM,

    New music editor Matt Freelove chose this for a pick of the week. Click HERE to fnd out why.

    Thank you. EE Temple

  • Eeeeeeeee! Thank you!

  • bwat?

    Sing Me Spanish Techno is amazing I don’t know what you’re talking about.