The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

Sam Adams

By Sam Adams

on 08.25.14 in Reviews

“I was born with a sound,” sings the New Pornographers’ Dan Bejar on the cross-country collective’s sixth album, “but I couldn’t find a way to let it out.” On what Pornographer in Charge A.C. Newman has declared the band’s “celebration,” there’s a carefree blast of no-ballads-allowed optimism after a relatively subdued period in the band’s history. Newman sounds as if he’s been digging through bins of vintage synthesizers, including the arpeggiators that run up and down “Champions of Red Wine,” and he uses the Pornographers’ four principal vocalists — himself, Neko Case, Dan Bejar and Kathryn Calder — like individual keys, sometimes blending them into a chord so tightly woven you’d be hard pressed to say who’s singing lead. Case’s icy vocal on “Champions” was a harmony vocal until Newman brought it, “1999“-style, to the fore.

An unabashedly rococo record with a carefree blast of no-ballads-allowed optimism

Its title’s ostensible toughness notwithstanding, Brill Bruisers is an unabashedly rococo record, with a song called “Dancehall Domine” followed a few minutes later with one that repeats the phrase “unfolded into madrigals” (Newman balances out his ornate, often-obscure lyrics with a panoply of nonsense syllables: At last, fans of “ooh,” “oh-oh” and “bo-ba-ba-bo” can claim common ground.) It’s an easy album to listen to but a hard one to hear, so besotted with studio experimentation that it risks favoring the frosting over the cake. Fortunately, the listens it takes to drill through the fondant are invariably pleasant ones, and not bruising in the slightest.