The New Pornographers

The New Pornographers, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

It’s always a treat to see The New Pornographers live, and with the full crew* available for Wednesday night’s show, Portland was in for a treat.  Their potent brand of fun power-pop is the kind of music that’s perfect for sharing with a crowd.  In theory.

The Crystal Ballroom took the band's name off the marquee as soon as possible.

The Crystal Ballroom took the band’s name off the marquee as soon as possible.

In theory, a feedback loop should develop wherein the band’s bright, sugary melodies inspires the crowd to respond with some noise and movement, which in turn invigorates the band to play with more energy, exciting the audience even more, and forever and ever amen.  However, last night’s crowd was possibly the deadest group I’ve ever seen at a show in this town, and stood in stark contrast to the music being played on stage.  There was perhaps no better illustration of this moment than when the band hits the chorus to the frenetic “War on the East Coast”, about three people jumped in the air ready to dance as soon as the crunch of the downbeat hit, only to find that they were alone in their enthusiasm (granted, I was one of those three).  And don’t blame it on poor set placement–the band saved their latest single for the second-to-last spot of the main set, so the crowd should’ve already been warmed up at that point.

While a bit deflating, the band didn’t seem to notice all that much, fulfilling their part of the bargain at least.  With both Neko Case and Dan Bejar along for this tour, the band had the full catalog at their disposal.  The band emphasized their recent album, Brill Bruisers, playing ten of the twelve tracks in their hour-and-a-half long set, but also made sure to perform the majority of Dan’s songs, ensuring that Bejar wouldn’t remain off-stage for too long (a fact that Carl Newman joked about early in the show).  Earlier this week, we expressed our opinion about the new album, and many of the same criticisms still apply even in a live setting; “Brill Bruisers” is a decent opener and “War on the East Coast” could really pop, but otherwise we were waiting for old favorites to pop up.  It’s clear that the band however loves the new material (the mere fact that they could rope in both Dan and Neko for this tour says to this, considering that’s not always the case), with Carl mentioning that “Spidyr” is his personal favorite.

The whole gang, though believe me that they're less blurry in real-life.

The whole gang, though believe me that they’re less blurry in real-life.

The old favorites made for some killer moments–the pop of “Use It” motivated the crowd to move around, while at the other end of the scale the delicate “Adventures in Solitude” moved the audience emotionally.  But it was in the two encores that the band truly shined, with the one-two combo of the rousing “The Laws Have Changed” leading into the epic “The Bleeding Heart Show” bringing down the house, with the band’s replacement for long-time drummer Kurt Dahle stepping up to the plate and nailing that brilliant part.  I haven’t been able to find out who it was behind the kit, but he went all-out (as evidenced by his sweat-drenched shirt)  and did an excellent job all night.  This was followed by a second encore of “Sing Me Spanish Techno” and “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” providing a perfect finale to the evening (I for one appreciated Carl taking the time to remember the chords to “Spanish Techno”).  Even if the crowd was half-dead for the most part, those songs shine through regardless.

The New Pornographers File

The New Pornographers have been one of the most reliable indie rock bands in the last fifteen years, and possibly the unlikeliest to have survived.  Those who’ve followed the band or read any of the profiles that were published during the publicity tour for their newest release Brill Bruisers would understand the latter part, considering their unusual origins and group dynamic.  The New Pornographers are a “supergroup” that outshined the work of their predecessor outfits, only to find in the wake of their success offshoot bands that have found equal or greater success.  It may be hard to grab Neko Case away from her solo work and Dan Bejar from tinkering with Destroyer, but every so often Carl Newman (who has a solo career of his own) pulls it off to give the gang another shot, and it usually pays off.

I first became a fan of the band back in college during the time that their seminal work Twin Cinema was released.  I was working in radio at the time, and because I was the kind of worker that did his due diligence, I had noticed a lot of buzz surrounding the album and was excited to find out that we were getting advance tracks from the record.  I remember being captivated by the title “Sing Me Spanish Techno”, partially because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what on earth “Spanish Techno” would sound like (as it turns out, this line of thinking was at least partially responsible for the title–an offhand comment in a conversation referring to “Spanish Techno” was the inspiration).  But I was soon captivated by all the wonderful melodies and enraptured by the sheer catchiness of the song, and in an irony of ironies, found myself constantly putting on repeat a song that excoriated the listener for “listening too long to one song”.

Soon I would pick up the album for myself and familiarize myself with the other highlights, from the bouncy “Use It”, to the mysterious “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras”, and the lilting “Falling Through Your Clothes”.  It was after a few more listens that I finally came to recognize the epic “The Bleeding Heart Show, a song whose brilliance we recognized with our very first Feats of Strength feature.  These tracks always stood out from the rest in my mind, but the rest of the album was at the level that I never felt the need to skip tracks, though I never felt the need to learn their names either.  This would be a pattern that I would find in most of their other works–a few standout tracks that are certain to make most setlists, and the rest doing just enough to keep you interested to finish the album.  Not a revolutionary analysis, I admit, but the significance of those particular tracks always made the band as much a favorite in my mind as a band whose discography I knew front-to-back.

I then worked my way back, picking up the band’s excellent debut, Mass Romantic.  It showed that the group’s knowledge of how to write a killer riff filled with sugar-sweet melodies was evident from the start, from the propulsive “The Body Says No”, to the jaunty title track, and the bouncy “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism”.  The New Pornographers simply had a knack from the start for mixing big guitar chords and riffs with inventive and and playful keyboard lines, as well as simply displaying a keen ear for memorable melody lines.  During the time that I spent revisiting the band’s history, I’ll be damned if I didn’t find myself humming the chorus to Neko Case’s powerhouse “Letter From An Occupant”.

Electric Version would be proof that yes, sometimes lightning can strike twice, as the band effectively copied the same formula from their debut.  While I have fond memories of the album and always am glad when it it comes up on shuffle, I have the hardest time remembering the specifics of what I love about the record.  On the whole, in many ways it’s a louder and happier take on their debut.  Any other band would be enormously proud of an album like Electric Version; it’s only problem is that it’s sandwiched between two of the great records of the 2000’s.

It was after the success of Twin Cinema where my tastes began to diverge from the consensus.  While many critics and fans were a bit disappointed with Challengers and Together, I find myself listening to these records quite often with a smile on my face.  True, the band began to write more ballads and for some it may have felt that the band couldn’t capture the right momentum on each album, but both albums offered the kind of highlights that would spur me to keep listening to these albums time after time.  It may have partially been the result of the fact that the band released a song with the lyric of “stranded at Bleecker and Broadway” while I was living at the other end of that block in New York (“Myriad Harbour”), but I always had a soft spot for Challengers.  Of course, I think that even the most disappointed critic would be hard-pressed to deny the charms of “Mutiny, I Promise You”.

Together suffered from many of the same critiques as Challengers, but has a slightly better reputation.  Again, I point to the fact that the album includes several of the group’s finest work, from “Crash Years” to “Silver Jenny Dollar” to “Up In The Dark”.  And it has one of the best openers the band has ever done, with “Moves”.

And so when Brill Bruisers was released earlier this year, it was met with the best reviews that the band had received since Twin Cinema.  But once again, I found myself disagreeing with the mainstream opinion.  As is the case with the rest of the band’s output, on the whole it’s a fine album.  However, it really lacks those two or three standout tracks that will be remembered for years to come and become an eternal part of their regular set (though that is of course assuming a lot with this band).  I enjoy the Dan Bejar-penned “War on the East Coast”, and appreciate how they merged Bejar’s more eccentric taste with the regular NP sound, but it feels like a lesser effort on the whole  The first four tracks on the whole work pretty well, but there’s nothing that leaves a lasting impression, and the momentum starts to peter out well before the record finishes.

It may be that the artificial tones used in the recording rub me the wrong way, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case; I for one appreciate the much-discussed use of arpeggiators and love most of the keyboards on the album, so it’s not those 80’s-era type touches that bother me.  It may simply be that there is a simple lack of hooks that get me listening “too long to one song” or humming to myself everyday for weeks on end.  This is why when in the weeks leading up to its release we spent a lot of time around here linking to articles and reviews about the band, yet we didn’t recommend Brill Bruisers and write-up a full review of the album; in the end we pushed LOSE from Cymbals Eat Guitars, a fantastic record that may have benefited from lower expectations on our end, and not suffered like Brill Bruisers did.

Still, the band has had a fantastic career and well worth checking out, if you haven’t already.  And we’ll be there tomorrow night when the band takes the stage at the Crystal Ballroom, even if the show includes a healthy portion of new material.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 22 Edition)

Kicking off the official beginning of fall (even if it begins a day later this year) with some new music and videos…

Jeff Tweedy is set to release the album (Sukierae) he recorded with his son Spencer tomorrow, and the duo stopped by the NPR offices to perform as a part of their “Tiny Desk Concerts” series.

The Antlers have another gorgeous, dreamy video from Familiars, this time for the song “Refuge”.  Not much actually happens, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all the pretty colors.

If you’re in the mood for a little more action in your music videos, and don’t mind handling a bit of the bizarre, then check out the video for the Suicide-inspired track “Grid” by Perfume Genius, whose new album Too Bright is also set to come out tomorrow.

King Tuff’s new album “Black Moon Spell” is also set to be released on the 23rd, and if you’re quick you can listen to a stream of the glam-rock album on NPR right now.  The title track is the best song that T. Rex never released, if you ask me.

Kele Okereke from Bloc Party will be releasing his second solo album on October 13, and today released the second single from Trick.  Listen to “Coasting” here.

On Friday we linked to Pitchfork’s extensive interview with Richard D. James, but we we wanted to make sure that you saw this video that was linked to in the article of an early performance of “Aisatsana”, featuring a piano swung across the stage as if it were a pendulum.  That should be enough of a signal for you to watch:

And finally, Carl Newman and Neko Case from the New Pornographers talked to NPR about what it takes to write a good pop song, and the piece includes video of their performance at the Brill Building which gave their new album its name.  Unfortunately, the piece also didn’t include Neko’s cover of the Squidbillies theme song, but we got you covered.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 22 Edition)

For those of you looking for reading material during the commercial breaks of the Every Simpsons Ever marathon…

Everyone’s looking forward to the new album from The New Pornographers next week, Brill Bruisers, and they’re making the media rounds in preparation.  Be sure to check out their interviews with Consequence of Sound and Pitchfork.

Pitchfork also has this look at the early-years of Kraftwerk, a period in which the band had yet to find the style that would come to define them.

If you’re in the mood for a troll-tastic list, there’s this countdown of the Best Video winners from the MTV VMA’s.  You can tell it’s an awful list with its very first selection: a shitty argument stating that R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” is the worst in the 30 year history of the event.

[Ed. Note: “Sledgehammer” should be number 1, and “Virtual Insanity” should be 1a, with Chris Rock’s parody of the Jamiroquai video at 1b.]

Deadspin looks at the unlikely connection between the heavily-hyped FKA twigs and Air Supply.

AV Club has been doing a big feature about 1994 this week, and that includes a plea to listen to some Gin Blossoms.

And finally, The Guardian talks to several famous lead singers about the anxieties they face when performing.

Over the Weekend (Aug. 11 Edition)

Videos, rare tracks, and lists to help get your week started…

We here at Rust Is Just Right love Red Fang, aka Portland’s Greatest Metal Band, and especially enjoy their goofy music videos.  Their latest for “The Meadows”, which is found on a free new EP, is pretty simple: the band dresses up in some of their best suits and spends the budget for their video on a big feast, often shooting in slow motion.  The video ends at what is probably my favorite pizzeria in Portland, so at least it has that going for it.

Speaking of favorite Portland bands, The Thermals posted a video this morning from their KEXP performance a few years back, playing a B-Side I hadn’t heard before called “I Can’t Let Go”.  Judging from the time of the video and the style, it sounds like it’s from the Personal Life era.

The Flaming Lips side-project Electric Würms (where Steven Drozd takes over frontman duties and Wayne Coyne moves to the background) released two new songs today from their upcoming EP, Musik Die Shwer zu Twerk.  You can find “The Bat” over on Bilboard, while NPR has “I Could Only See Clouds”.  If you want a quick summation of their sound, it’s along the lines of their recent album The Terror, but even trippier.

Foo Fighters uploaded a quick teaser video last week for their upcoming album, and this morning released the full details about the release of Sonic Highways.  The number “8” is prominently featured in the materials (even adding up the digits of the running time of 44 minutes).  The coolest bit of news is that the LP version includes nine covers, including one for each city in which the album is recording (biting an idea that I had for my own band, but considering we never toured, I’m okay with giving Dave Grohl the credit).

Rolling Stone has a fun list with the Buzzfeedian title of “20 Insanely Great David Bowie Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know”; personally, I’m quite a big fan of most of Bowie’s catalog, but I know just how deep some people’s obsession with the man can be, so I’m taking this to be a learning experience.

And finally, The New Pornographers stopped by The Current Studio in Minneapolis and played a handful of songs, which you can check out right here.

Catching Up On The Week (July 18 Edition)

Some #longreads as you kick back and sit by the pool this weekend…

This is the week of Weird Al Yankovic, everybody, as our foremost parodist delighted the internet with a new music video each day from his new album, Mandatory Fun.  You should be able to find tons of features on him this week, but I’m going to highlight this piece from Deadspin in particular.  AV Club has had a whole series of articles on him, including a quick interview where Weird Al answers 11 questions.  And SPIN has taken the opportunity to rank every music video Weird Al has done.

The New Pornographers are gearing up for the release of their new album, Brill Bruisers, and The Vancouver Sun talks with Carl Newman on how the band was able to record despite the fact that the various solo projects pull the band members every which way.  After reading that, be sure to enjoy the band’s take on mid-90’s BritPop one-shot videos with the Dan Bejar-sung “War on the East Coast”.

Pitchfork has a piece looking at the evolution of “futuristic” music over the past fifty years, and its commentary on society as we’ve progressed over the years.  We didn’t mention it before, but also check out this other Pitchfork article that looks the validity of various dubious musical theories.

Earlier this week, Eddie Vedder caught some flack for off-the-cuff remarks he made in-between songs at a Pearl Jam show, which is something that Pearl Jam fans should be used to by now.  However, Vedder’s remarks pleading for peace was taken to be anti-Israel by some because of current events, most notably the Jerusalem Post, despite the fact there was no specific party mentioned.  Eddie took the time to post a response, clarifying once again that he’s anti-war, and that should come as no surprise.

And sadly, Johnny Winter passed away earlier this week, and the AV Club pays its respects.  This comes on the heels of last week’s death of Tommy Ramone, which has prompted more remembrances, including this one from Henry Rollins, being published that comment on the lasting influence of the Ramones.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 3 Edition)

It’s time to settle into another week, and what better way to capture the futility of another Monday than a pointless list from Rolling Stone?  This time, the “fearless” editors decided to rank every single song that Nirvana ever played, and decided that a slideshow of 102 clips is the best way to accomplish this.  Sure, some of the anecdotes are a bit fun, but mainly I’m surprised that someone listened to everything in the With the Lights Out boxset.

I'm sure there's a better way to utilize the asterisk.

These songs were ranked in some arbitrary order by Rolling Stone

As technology and the marketplace has evolved in music over the last decade, new business models have emerged, and not always to the benefit of the artists.  For example, a lot of emphasis has been placed on streaming services in recent years, and while some artists have endorsed this development, others have argued strongly against it, including notably Radiohead and The Black Keys.  We plan on doing future explorations of this argument in the future, but keep in mind this bit of evidence offered up by Zoe Keating, who provided a breakdown of where her income from her music came from in 2013.  Also, something else to keep in mind when you hear mindless preaching about how new technology will save us all: Camper Van Beethoven had a higher net profit than Twitter last year.  $645 million greater.

In a bit of great news for those who enjoyed our essay on The New Pornographers, Under the Radar has an interview with Carl Newman talking about their progress on a new album.

Speaking of our own work, it looks like we’re not the only ones who felt the time was right to take a look back at Danger Mouse’s career so far.  Stereogum has an “Annotated Media Guide to Danger Mouse” that you may want to check out.

SPIN seems to have the British band beat down this morning, with news about Coldplay’s new album (due May 19) and the premiere of the Arctic Monkeys’ new video for “Arabella”.

And finally, what better way to feel better about the week ahead than a reminder about the genius of This Is Spinal Tap.  ShortList has a list of the greatest “real life” Spinal Tap moments.  Some of these are probably worthy of a Jeff Goldblum laugh.

Over The Weekend (Feb. 10 Edition)

It’s Monday, and what better time to watch some videos because doing actual work sounds pretty awful right now.

There goes my plan to invest in Medieval Madness points

Not For Investment Purposes

Justin Vernon from Bon Iver and Volcano Choir sat in with The Roots on Jimmy Fallon’s show last week, and Pitchfork has videos of the combo playing Bon Iver songs.

Punk icon Dennis Lyxzén (Refused, The (International) Noise Conspiracy) has a new group called INVSN, and their sound is a bit different than what you would expect.  Then again, if you expected synths and programmed drums, I would like to learn about the hallucinogenic substances you’ve been ingesting.  But I like the sound, and Stereogum has the video for their song “61”.

I’ve been sticking around after The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to watch the show @Midnight.  I’ve been switching between that and Community reruns, but lately I’ve been sticking around the reruns less often (though this may be the result of the syndication schedule not doing a great job of shuffling the episodes).  I only bring it up here because Neko Case was a contestant on the most recent show; you can watch her Win The Internet here.

And finally, here’s Andrew W.K. doing a guest song for a show on Animal Planet, featuring a ridiculous-looking cat.  It is everything you’d hope and expect it to be.  And that’s the best way to start the week.