CD Review of Twin Cinema by New Pornographers

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Twin Cinema
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Matador
Released: 2005
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With all due respect to the Pernice Brothers, the New Pornographers are the best pop band alive right now. (For the record, the previous sentence was written before discovering that CMJ made a nearly identical claim.) As magnificent as 2001’s The World Won’t End is, Joe Pernice & Co. have followed it with two albums that are merely good, not great. The New Pornographers, the supergroup brainchild of Carl “A.C.” Newman, started off great, and are only getting better. Their sophomore album Electric Version was one of the best albums of 2003, and their newest, Twin Cinema, is even better. The power pop overtones of Electric Version take a back seat to a much wider range of influences, from African choruses to Eno and Cale to Tubeway Army. It’s a little more subdued than the sunny Electric Version, but what it lacks in boundless energy, it makes up for with limitless growth. To use a Blur comparison, the last album was Modern Life Is Rubbish. This album is Parklife.

The band starts things off with the title track (which was an Electric Version holdover), a pop rave-up that serves as an appropriate bridge between the two albums. Second track “The Bones of an Idol” is where the band starts spreading its wings, with Neko Case delivering a beautifully airy vocal over the Cale/Eno tribute. Case goes one better on the showstopper “These are the Fables,” a gorgeous folk ballad that carries a strong ‘60s flower power strain but is decidedly modern as well. Dan Bejar, the Colin Moulding to Newman’s Andy Partridge, gets a few good shots in too, most notably “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” a sequel of sorts to Mass Romantic track “Jackie.” His supposed Manson Family tribute “Streets of Fire” is rather fitting as well, both pretty and a little unsettling.

The most startling moments on Twin Cinema are the ones farthest removed from the band’s comfort zone. “The Bleeding Heart Show” begins as a melancholy piece of pop, ramps up in the second chorus, and ends with a massive, Zulu-inspired hey-la-hey-la chorus in the finale, anchored by some of the most powerful drumming Kurt Dahle has ever put to tape. And then there is the album closer “Stacked Crooked,” a grandiose, Mamas & the Papas-style dark pop gem with a Mexican horn break and a surf rock rhythm track. As clever and as catchy as Electric Version is, it didn’t contain anything as wildly ambitious as this.

For something that began as a side project, the New Pornographers are fast becoming a Band That Matters, proving that pop music can be both vital and accessible. Most importantly, they’ve shown that pop music can still be improved upon and expanded into areas that have yet to be explored. Twin Cinema does what all great albums do; they look to the past for inspiration, then spin it into something altogether new and exciting. Thank God that someone has their eye on the future of music.

~David Medsker