Feats of Strength: The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers have carved out a great career writing catchy, ambitious rock songs with great pop melodies.  A prime example of this is “The Bleeding Heart Show”, one of the highlights of my favorite album of theirs, Twin Cinema.  The rousing coda makes it easy to see why it’s a live favorite; it’s probably indie rock’s best answer to the second half of “Layla”.  I think it’s a fair comparison, because while both are certainly crowd-pleasers, I’m never quite sure if there is a real connection between the two sections.

But we’re here to celebrate, not bury the song.  I think it’s pretty apparent that the key part of the coda is the propulsive drumwork of Kurt Dahle.  It’s his shift to double-time that gives the music its lift, and it’s his fills that connect each repetition of the lament “we have arrived too late to play the bleeding heart show” that help pump up the listener.  He plays a different variation at the end of each phrase, propelling the band into the next go-around by progressively amping up the intensity and increasing the difficulty while never letting things get out of control.

While I love each of the fills, there is a very subtle pattern that Dahle uses that is in my mind the coolest part of the song.  It occurs about two bars after each fill (after the “too late” part), with the first instance at around the 3:16 mark.  It’s a quick two hits of the hi-hat on the off-beats, and it serves to both accent the “too late” of the lyrics, and to reset the drum pattern until the next fill.  It’s a little detail that’s easy to gloss over and escapes notice on the first few listens, but once it’s found, it becomes the highlight of the song.

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