So…just who are The New Pornographers?
The Wikipedia page for the band refers to them as an “indie rock supergroup,” which strikes me as a contradiction in terms. I think in this case all it really means is that every member of the band is also a member of another band. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never heard of any of the other bands. The most well-known band member is almost certainly vocalist Neko Case, who herself is hardly a household word. The mastermind behind the group is A.C. Newman, who is also hardly a household word, at least in the U.S. Most of the band members are from Canada, and in all honesty that just about exhausts my knowledge of the group.
So…how did I discover this band?
Every now and then, I’ll try out something that looks interesting on one of the listening stations at my local record store. They tend to put the hot new releases on the stations, which is usually a surefire guarantee that I’ll have never heard of the band. But with a name like “The New Pornographers?” I mean really – you just have to hear what that band sounds like. So I did (and this was “Twin Cinema,” the release prior to “Challengers”), and I liked what I heard. So buying the follow-up was a natural, and not surprisingly I liked it as well. Well enough to rank it as my 7th favorite album of 2007.
So…what happened between then and now to lift this record from being my 7th favorite of 2007 to my 11th favorite of the entire decade?
As it happens, I am one of the few people left on the planet who has a cassette deck (and it’s a really nice one), enjoys making mix tapes, and drives a car without a CD player. Right now, there are tapes in my car that are almost 30 years old, and I still enjoy listening to them. In recent years, after I got a 5-disc CD changer for Christmas one year, I started making tapes by throwing random CDs on the player, hitting “shuffle,” and letting the results speak for themselves. Around the time “Challengers” came out, I did the mix-tape trick with it and two other albums, “Dylanesque” by Bryan Ferry and “Traffic and Weather” by Fountains of Wayne. I played that tape a lot then, and I still play it a lot now. And with each listen, the songs from those albums began to worm their way into my brain. But especially so with “Challengers” – as I came to really know songs like “My Rights Versus Yours,” “Challengers,” Myriad Harbour,” and “Unguided,” I came to appreciate them more and more, and with each listen, the album grew in my estimation.
So…what do they sound like?
Back when I first reviewed it, I expressed difficulty in classifying the sound of the band, and to this day I’d be hard pressed to do so. Not quite power pop, not quite art rock…perhaps a bit of both. But whatever it is, I like it. But don’t take my word for it; decide for yourself:
“My Rights Versus Yours,” live on Letterman
Add it all up, and you get #11. Which can mean only one thing – the Top Ten is yet to come!