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The New Pornographers - Together

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Artist: The New Pornographers

Album: Together

Label: Matador

Review date: May. 4, 2010


The New Pornographers - "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk" (Together)


Despite the fact that the New Pornographers are touted as a supergroup of sorts, this is undoubtedly A.C. Newman’s band, and he exerts the most influence over the direction and aesthetic of the songs. Non-dysfunctional groups — even collectives and organizations that follow no hierarchy — need people to take point, to make decisions or at least synthesize everyone’s wants together, and set a course for everyone to follow. The groups that don’t do this more often than not flounder in indecision and waffling. This isn’t to make a case for central authorities — one can have revolving leadership roles, for instance — but rather to point out that groups that function well have someone actually making decisions, and those decisions, even if made by the group, are filtered through the lens of the leader.

With the New Pornographers that means that the direction A.C. Newman moves in aesthetically affects the entire group, including Dan Bejar. To get this out of the way in order to concentrate on the problem areas, Together is a good album that is catchy and full of hooks and does a lot of what we’ve come to expect from the band. Having said that, it’s also a step down. There’s something the earlier albums were doing, were affecting in the listener, that Together does not have. If Mass Romantic was them finding their feet, Electric Version and Twin Cinema was the solidification of their particular style, a marriage of urgency with a sense of dynamics that really made those albums stand out. Newman’s solo work though turned to a softer, more subdued style. Slow Wonder came out after Electric Version and had some faster paced songs on it, but it mostly was lacking the urgency, as last year’s Get Guilty certainly did.

And Newman’s slower style has now trickled into the cracks of the New Pornographers. Together has the dynamics — there are a lot of interesting melodies and arrangements, vocal lines that twist around each other and bits and pieces that add up well — but it lacks the forcefulness of the earlier albums. Not bad, just disappointing. There’s a lot of build up, but it never seems to pay off, like the drums at the end of “Your Hands (Together)”; they build a lot of tension but never end up releasing it.

Even Bejar’s songs seem restrained, and he’s famous for being completely unrestrained and self-indulgent — to his and his songs’ advantage — but the mark of his work is an uncontrollable extravagance, and that seems repressed here.

Now, it’s a mistake to criticize a band for simply changing, but that said, not every change is a positive one, and the lack of energy in Together makes it feel more slight, less substantial than their other work.

By Andrew Beckerman

Other Reviews of The New Pornographers

Electric Version

Twin Cinema

Challengers

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