Wednesday, January 9, 2008

New Pornographers - Challengers

The New Pornographers: Neko Case (vocals); Danny Bejar (guitars); John Collins (baritone guitar); Todd Fancey (banjo); Kathryn Calder (piano); Blaine Thurier (Fender Rhodes piano); A.C. Newman (bass guitar); Kurt Dahle (drums).

Additional personnel: Phil Palazzolo (guitar); Eileen Gannon (harp); Tara Szczygielski, Olivier Manchon (violin); Marla Hansen (viola); Benjamin D. Kalb (cello); Leslie Kubicka (flute); Brendan Ryan (accordion); Alan Hampton (double bass).

One of the many things that make the New Pornographers an excellent band is their ability to turn power pop, a genre characterized by its bubblegum orthodoxy and instant appeal into complex, durable art. The Vancouver collective comprising several singer-songwriters with solo careers of their own successfully mined this territory over their first three albums; their fourth finds them delving deeper. 2007's CHALLENGERS brims with the band's usual sterling melodies and meticulous songcraft, while expanding their range sonically and conceptually.

With "My Right Versus Yours" and "All the Old Showstoppers," among others, primary songwriter A.C. Newman pens some of the album's best tunes, striking a fine balance between pop directness and heady unpredictability. Dan Bejar's tracks contrast Newman's with their dark, glam-tinged eccentricity (best track for me "Myriad Harbor" can’t stop humming the chorus). As usual, the angelic voice of alt-country singer Neko Case plays a starring role; her treatment of the title cut is one of CHALLENGERS' highlights. All this variety mixes with an intriguing instrumental palette (Farfisa organ, strings, harp), and the usual blast of guitars, harmonies, and infectious hooks, to create an album that invites and rewards repeated listening.

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