The New Pornographers – Introductory Page

The New Pornographers



“Indie rock” is a totally meaningless moniker. I’m sure you are aware of this. Like any subgenre of music, the term may have meant something back when it first started being used back in, say, 1983, but over time has come to have about five billion diametrically opposed definitions. It means something different to everyone. To the average Slayer fan, indie rock is “that wimpy shit for dirty hippies.” To those same dirty hippies that creamed their pants over For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007 but now hate Bon Iver because they won a Grammy, it’s the antidote for the endless dredge of mainstream rock like Nickelback. Really, at this point in history, the term can and has been used to describe pretty much anything that can be loosely termed “rock” that’s less blatantly commercial than Van Halen. And that includes plenty of artists that exist on major labels – which, from a semantic perspective, seems contrary to the very phrase “indie rock.” Aren’t “indie” bands supposed to be on “indie” labels? I’m assuming that’s what “indie” originally meant, but I guess that’s just another thing R.E.M. fucked up for everyone when they made the major label jump in the late 80s. Fuckers.

So despite the fact that indie rock is now nothing if not a massive umbrella term, people still seem to chuckle when the New Pornographers are referred to—as they often are—as an “indie rock supergroup” because people who play indie rock apparently aren’t famous enough to be in supergroups. I don’t think calling them a supergroup is any more ridiculous than calling Crosby, Stills & Nash one. If Mustachioed Walrus, Laryngitic Toad & Foppish Imp started their careers today, they’d certainly be no more popular than, say, Fleet Foxes, and who’s more “indie rock” than Fleet Foxes these days?

In any case, the New Pornographers are super, in terms of both the product they create and the way they were formed. The band is the brainchild of lisping, redheaded Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist Carl “A.C.” Newman, who ranks up there with Mark E. Smith, Orville Redenbacher and Paul McCartney’s 900-pound drummer as rock stars who look the least like rock stars. After the dissolution of his mid-90s power pop outfit Zumpano, needing an outlet for his infectious pop songs, he enterprisingly gathered a bunch of his talented friends who, like him, had already made names for themselves in the bourgeoning Vancouver rock scene, which was getting to be a pretty big deal for a while back then. (When I was a teenager, Vancouver was in fact looking like a pretty good place to move as Dubya’s disastrous presidency dragged on and I was getting more and more interested in new rock music. It was the new epicenter of the universe! But then I realized it rains a lot there. Also, it’s in Canada). These friends were chick singer Neko Case, singer/songwriter Dan Bejar, bassist John Collins, drummer Kurt Dahle and keyboardist Blaine Thurier (guitarist Todd Fancey and keyboardist/singer Kathryn Calder were later additions to the band). Most of these folks have gone on to even greater success and acclaim since the band formed – particularly redheaded bombshell Neko, who has enjoyed great popularity with her solo career.

But for all their collective talent, the greatness of the New Pornographers lies in the genius songwriting of Carl Newman. Yeah, Neko is great, but she only sings and doesn’t write songs for this band. And I love Dan Bejar too—his main gig is Destroyer, one of my very favorite bands—but his role in the band is limited to moonlighting for three songs per album and rarely appearing in band press and photos, much less going on tour with them (he didn’t until 2005). This band is all about Newman’s vision and unmistakable songwriting gift. There haven’t been all that many songwriters throughout the history of rock music—at least not since the 60s—that can effortlessly bang out and string together outrageously catchy bubblegum hooks aimed directly for the listener’s pleasure center the way Newman can. And not just write ‘em, but augment them with loud, fuzzy guitars, blissful guy-girl harmonies and creative arrangements. They’ve mellowed out some since they burst assertively onto the scene with the wildly acclaimed Mass Romantic in 2000, with results ranging from brilliant (Twin Cinema) to iffy (Together). But the New Pornographers forever remain a power pop dream to savor.

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