Synthesized Stamina | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Synthesized Stamina

Now in their 20th year, The New Pornographers bring a new upbeat, cohesive sound

click to enlarge Synthesized Stamina
Photo by Jenny Jimenez

Bucking the indie rocker norm, Canadian band The New Pornographers has weathered the changing musical landscape, releasing their seventh studio album, "Whiteout Conditions." Expect increased tempos, heavy synths and expanded harmonies and fewer solo vocals, adding to a more unified sound. Cohesion is a tough feat to achieve for a band whose arguably best attribute is its multiple indie superstar "front persons," à la Carl Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar.

"Mainly, I would of been shocked that we're still here," begins Carl Newman, speaking with the Source from New York as he prepared for the upcoming tour. As other indie rock outfits have ebbed and flowed out of the scene, the band— now in its 20th year— has managed to stay relevant, appealing to newer crowds, consciously taking breaks and adjusting to change. They have focused on making their sound distinct and unified, ever since their 2014 album, "Brill Bruisers," so there's less of a "this is a Neko Case or Dan Bejar song." It's just the New Pornos, with layer synth, uncomplicated song structures and a strong focus on harmony. The band throws references to Krautrock (experimental German rock) — with quick tempo songs like Avalanche Alley and inadvertently adds commentary to the "Trump anxiety" Newman says they all felt through the single, "High Ticket Attractions."

"I think it just happens," notes Newman on the evolved sound, "both consciously and unconsciously as music changes. Now we have bands like the Animal Collective and Tame Impala, and I love what they are doing...It's not that we decide we want to imitate them, but it's hard to avoid the influences that's happening around you. You hear it in bands like Spoon; they started using a lot more keyboards. We do, too. It just seeps in."

Title track, "Whiteout Conditions," and the track, "Play Money," showcase this metaphorized sound, which Newman says came together pretty quickly. He's particularly proud of the crazy loud synth on the latter track. "It's always been in our heads to want to use arpeggiators, (a type of synthesizer) because we love things like "Call Me" by Blondie. So you know, it sounds like something that's going on in music now, but it also sounds like something that was going on in music when we were kids."

He notes this musical transition has been well on its way, ever since the band heard "Soft Bulletin" by The Flaming Lips in 1999. "That was keyboard heavy," says Newman, "So it was sort of a template (and) it's a pretty influential record. The ideas were going on from then on."

Reflecting on the journey, Newman notes, "Back in the day, we wanted to use synthesizers but it just wasn't the time." Even on the first record, I remember messing around with drum loops on one song because I wanted to give it a huge hip-hop drum we've had these ideas but we've held back, thinking, let's just be a rock band for now.'"

And a pretty successful rock band they've been, with a cult-like following, amassing notches on "Rolling Stone's" 100 Best Albums of the Decade (#79 for "Electric Version") and "Blender" Magazine's 24th Best Indie Album of All Time ("Mass Romantic"). Newman acknowledges that for a time the band got very good at pumping out upbeat pop-like records. "We had a formula," he says, "but after three records I was sick of it and said, 'enough of that.'" It was at this point that the band gravitated to quieter songs influenced by both Newman and Bejar, who is notably absent from this record and subsequent tour. "There's nothing going on with Dan being absent, he's just said that he's writing weird quiet songs. And I wanted this record to be very fast and light."

click to enlarge Synthesized Stamina
Jenny Jimenez

The band's durability can also be attributed to these moments where band members do their own thing. Newman, now living in Woodstock, N.Y is occupied by raising his young son and writing music. Bejar has had half a dozen projects including being frontman for Destroyer, supergroup Swan Lake and as a duo as Hello, Blue Roses. Neko Case's 2013 album "The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You" catapulted her to fame with a Grammy nomination.

The band is now embarking on a six-week tour beginning in L.A. and moving onto Europe, where they expect to play both the new material and songs from their older records. "It's a cool job playing music in front of people. We just try to remember that and have fun," says Newman. He notes the New Pornographers will keep evolving, "We thought, let's try to be what we were like in the beginning...but more manipulated by crazy keyboards, sequencers and arpeggiators and that's how we got here."

Expect the band to be around for some time.

The New Pornographers with Waxahatchee

Fri., April 14, 8pm

Midtown Ballroom

50 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend


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