The New Pornographers

Tyler Wilcox

Carl "A.C." Newman and his cast of indie stars (which includes Neko Case and Destoyer's Dan Bejar) are victims of the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" conundrum.

The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers

City: Boulder, CO
Venue: The Boulder Theater
Date: 2007-09-27

Unlike the three rapturously received long players that came before it, the New Pornographers’ latest release, Challengers, has seen a slightly muted response. The main criticism seems to be that the album trades the band’s expertly executed hooks in for subdued, melodic balladry. In other words, where previous albums were nonstop sugar-rush explosions, this new one is -- so say the naysayers -- like totally boring, man. In this respect, Carl “A.C.” Newman and his cast of indie stars (which includes Neko Case and Destoyer’s Dan Bejar) are victims of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum. Had Challengers been a full-throttle, Mass Romantic-style pop-rock extravaganza, many critics would have yawned: “Ho-hum, more of the same from the New Pornographers.” Granted, the new album isn’t perfect, but at least it proves once and for all that the indie-rock super-group is not a one-trick pony. Live, Challengers’s songs make more sense, enriching and diversifying the New Pornos’ set immeasurably. At the Boulder Theater on an uncharacteristically drizzly Monday evening in late September, the Neko Case showcase “Go Places” provided a gravitas that the band has previously lacked in concert. It’s a power ballad -- there’s no other term for it -- but in the best way possible. Placed between the propulsive, smart-ass fun of Dan Bejar’s “Jackie Dressed in Cobras” and the glammy, cluttered “Twin Cinema”, “Go Places” sounded wide open and lovely -- a much-needed emotional breather in the midst of the trademark New Pornographers power-pop workouts. Not that there wasn’t plenty of those throughout the band’s 90-minute set: From their four albums, they cherry-picked the best tracks. This was the “supercharged” lineup of the band -- meaning that both Bejar and Case donated their singular talents to the mix. Bejar was a particularly entertaining presence, slithering out snake-like every three or four songs to the strains of Herb Alpert’s “Little Spanish Flea” to sing his own gleefully twisted tunes. Where the rest of the band appeared to be genial guys and girls, the bird’s nest-haired Bejar -- guzzling beer and munching on a slice of cheese in between verses -- gave the stage a welcome shot of weirdness. Case, meanwhile, had only to stand there and sing to make a difference. In some ways, it’s curious that she still plays with the New Pornos since she’s sold out the Boulder Theater by herself a couple of times in the last few years. But judging from the grins Case traded with her bandmates throughout the set, she enjoys being a Pornographer. At the center of it all, Newman (reluctantly?) led the New Pornographers. He’s definitely not a born frontman, that’s for sure. While he seemed more comfortable in the spotlight tonight than in years past, his between-song banter remained resolutely self-deprecating. “Thanks for coming out on a Monday night and being so enthusiastic,” he deadpanned towards the end of the show. “We thought this would be the night where everyone hated us.” Not at all.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.