The New Pornographers
Okay, so the New Pornographers are 3-0, and before you even scan below, their latest is an A+ album. Honestly, I would have given the band's two previous records - Mass Romantic and Electric Version - the same grade. It's not broken; don't fix it.
After only one listen to Twin Cinema, I'd already spotted four or five favorites, and the rest grew on me quickly. Singers Carl Newman and Neko Case impeccably balance the immediately arresting rockers (such as the title track), the ballads that turn into rockers ("The Bleeding Heart Show"), and the off-kilter pop ("The Jessica Numbers") that is so pleasurable you forget how structurally odd it is.
The secret weapon, Dan Bejar (who leads his own contribution to greatness under the Destroyer moniker), tends to exhibit some paranormal (and perpetual) gift for eccentric but unforgettable songs, which are like windows into a bygone era of pop that never existed. Bejar is admittedly a huge fan of solo John Cale, obviously a Bowie disciple, and both show. But he is hearing things that very few songwriters are dialed into. Just play his "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras" (the sequel to Mass Romantic's "Jackie") eight times in a row, and it will all make sense.
Though they're generally described as such, the New Pornographers are not a power-pop band. They don't ape the power pop of the '70s or the new wave/power pop of the '80s. The music is infectious and immediate in the way you expect power pop to be but too complex and simply too good to be confined to the genre. Twin Cinema is a flawless album from a so-far flawless band. - Andrew Earles
Indie-rock Listening Log
Picaresque - The Decemberists (Kill Rock Stars): Hyper-literate and oh-so theatrical, Decemberists singer-songwriter Colin Meloy concocts music that sounds like what Morrissey might have come up with if he channeled his agonies into flights of fiction and if he were backed by a shambling mini-orchestra instead of a nifty new-wave guitarist. Meloy isn't quite as morose as the Moz, but he has the same grandiose sense of humor. How many songwriters envision a high school football player who describes his plight like this: "I fell on the playing field/The work of an errant heel/The din of the crowd and the loud commotion/Went deafening silent and stopped in motion." ("We Both Go Down Together," "The Sporting Life," "16 Military Wives")
Less Than Human - The Juan MacLean (DFA/Astralwerks): Rooted in the Krautrock-inspired electronica of leader John MacLean's '90s rock band (Six Finger Satellite), this entry in production-team/record-label DFA's synthetic dance-rock stable lives up to its title: It's heavy on the synthetic. Not as pointed or ecstatic as the best of LCD Soundsystem or as warmly rock-oriented as the Rapture (both label/scene-mates), it is rhythmic electronic music more geared for solo sojourns than communal catharsis. ("AD 2003," "Give Me Every Little Thing")
Face the Truth - Stephen Malkmus (Matador): Onetime Pavement wunderkind reduced to a "maker of modern minor masterpieces" for an ever-shrinking cult, but his musical dynamic remains intact: guitar skronk as rich and colorful as red velvet cake, an expressively elastic voice, and smart (-alecky) words that seem to mean something even if you can't always figure out what it is. ("Freeze the Saints," "No More Shoes," "Pencil Rot")
Gimme Fiction - Spoon (Merge): I got hooked on Spoon's sound with 2002's Kill the Moonlight. Driven by percussion (drums, keyboards, piano, and various effects), chalk-dry guitars, and the calculated catch in lead singer Britt Daniel's voice, Spoon is the rare indie-rock band that swings. They don't sound quite like anyone else present or past and certainly don't sound as trendy as they are; they sound distinct, almost classic. Gimme Fiction replicates Kill the Moonlight's sound but not its sense. Here Daniel replaces the small-stakes concept that gave Kill the Moonlight's music shape with a batch of songs more lyrically oblique, resulting in a small step back. ("I Turned My Camera On," "Was It You," "They Never Got You") - Chris Herrington