First Look: The New Pornographers – “Together”

The New Pornographers - TogetherTogether we stand. The New Pornographers’ fifth album feels like a fresh start after 2007’s ironically ho-hum Challengers, a record I had the opportunity to dog in Entertainment Weekly. I’d love to take credit for the band’s newfound energy, but whatever the reason, a switch has gone off in head Porno Carl Newman’s head since the group’s last release — a switch toward awesome.

Newman still builds his songs in primary-colored blocks, but his palette’s wider and wilder on this one, perhaps thanks to a few new players — St. Vincent’s Annie Clark on guitar, Beirut’s Zach Condon tossing out trumpet blasts, and everyone turning in harmonies, making Together the band’s most vibrant record yet. While the helping hands are welcome, the album really excels at combining its core members’ strengths in previously unheard ways. “My Shepherd,” for one, blends the Pornos’ straightforward style with singer Neko Case’s own more shadowy, alt-country solo sensibilities, and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar’s three contributions sound less like his day job’s extras than full-on New Pornographers originals. Case, always the band’s best asset, really shines here, singing on nearly every track and returning to the high-energy efforts that defined the band’s first two albums. Even Newman himself sounds newly at ease, offering tender vocals on “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” and giving the rich arrangements the chance to breathe with spit-shined production.

Together sparkles with the kind of passion and inspiration that seemed dimmed in the Vancouver act since 2003’s Electric Version — but now, one way or another, the lights are on again.

The New Pornographers – “Your Hands (Together)”: mp3

(Together is out now on Matador)

More: Destroyer | New Music | 2010 Album Release Calendar