ALBUM: Bill Bruisers
ARTIST: The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers have been partying consistently for the past fourteen years, with the occasional hiatus and solo album in-between drinks. On Brill Bruisers, their sixth proper full-length, A.C. Newman and company regain some shred of their early 2000’s feel-good with just the right balance of space-aged feedback to keep the rioters happy. “We are champions of red wine/poured all over/It's what we're known for,” Neko Case sings on the album’s second track, perpetuating a familiar irreverence, despite the inevitable passing of time. It’s been four years since this ragtag bunch of tattered angels harmonized and made light of life’s often jumbled circumstances, and while 2010’s Together had its high moments, the general aesthetic of that record left a lot to be desired. Despite collaborating with a barrage of indie rock misfits including St. Vincent’s Annie Clark and Beirut’s Zach Condon, the band sounded ironically disjointed Together.
There’s no shame occasionally exiting your safety zone to achieve something fresh, but Together lacked the polished frenzy of past efforts, Twin Cinema and Challengers; two of the band’s strongest albums. Brill Bruisers is a much appreciated second wind, as the New Pornographers re-establish a previously solemn mood before tapping the kegs, pulling the anchor and setting sail. Newman initiates the festivities from the album’s onset. “Looking for searchlights leading the charge/The mass appeal/To brilliant bruisers taking the wheel,” he sings on the album’s self-titled opening track. It’s clearer than ever that these friends are happy to cruise the same waves again; their dynamic fluctuations highly balanced and picking up steam, with the occasional stray barnacle along the way.
Part of Brill Bruisers joyous allure can be attributed to the band members’ time spent on the outskirts. Newman, Case, and Dan Bejar (better known as Destroyer) have all released solo albums since Together, and all three acts are extremely well-received. Notoriety aside, these subtle baby steps and inevitable musical shifts are important when dealing with the latest from what can only be summed up as a supergroup. It’s a bit of a cliché at this point, a concept better defined by the likes of the Traveling Wilbury’s and Crosby, Still, Nash and Young before metal giants and 90’s grunge gurus stepped in and made the idea considerably icky with their high-pitched disregard.
That’s not to say that every once in a while the right gaggle of tortured souls can bring the goods to the table. In the case of Newman and Bejar, Brill Bruisers contains some of their most formed gems to date. Newman’s upbeat grooves in “Fantasy Fools” and “Backstairs” blend an uncanny mix of synth pop love with full rock band swagger. Meanwhile, Bejar revisits remnants of Destroyer’s latest Kaputt but adds enough 80’s electronica and French revolutionary-isms to stir the melting pot. “War on the East Coast” is Bejar at his most comfortable, backed by old friends, calling out, “It's war on the east coast/It's war out west/Oh, I don't care/I don't care.” This lack of concern is a real selling point, especially when considering how even musicians are often subjected to the outrageous unevenness of this world.
Thematically, Brill Bruisers takes aim at the irreverent squares and jumbled authority figures of old, but never does so in an overly-dramatic fashion. These are all pop songs, some subtle, others ridden with noises and harmonies worthy of any pre-battle finale. However, the sum of these parts is often quite daunting. At forty-three minutes, this album’s thirteen tracks share an inconceivable amount of similarities that bog it down, from out of place keyboard intro to questionable background vocal arrangement. Whereas the first five cuts highlight the band at their absolute collaborative peak, one can’t help but feel forced into a smoke-filled room of waning positivity by the end. That’s not to say that any one member is at fault, but rather the entire party is perhaps a little tired of shotgunning beers and imposing comic relief what with the sun coming up and all. It’s a testament to the group’s durability that they can still meet up and make an album of this heightened quality, though, especially when considering where they all were at the end of last century. Scattered members of an alternative underground, somewhere between lost and low-key, unscathed, but ripe for the first of many adventures to come. Let’s just hope there are enough libations to last until the next port.
“See my former glory still burning. It had every intent of returning.”