Examine, if you will, the working model of pop music. A solid backbeat lays the foundation for a simple, melodic bassline and a novel guitar hook, all of which are guided by a confident, yet powerful, individual voice. Keep it under four minutes, fade it out, and you’re primed for instant satisfaction and a guaranteed hit. For those who prefer a higher level of critical success, add a little bit of distortion and a tinge of punk rock edge to the above formula, and voila, you’re not just pop, you’re power pop, the holy grail of rock critic geekdom. By these standards, The New Pornographers should be enormous. But, the British Columbian buggers are just a little too smart, focusing on the more artsy side of pop music that ever so slightly escapes widespread mass appeal. The melodies might be there, the songs may be irresistible. But as their new album, Twin Cinema suggests, they’ve crossed over the line of pop music into something bigger altogether.
Twin Cinema is, simply speaking, the album that we were all waiting for The New Pornographers to make. Where Mass Romantic had the talent and promise, and Electric Version had the great songs, Twin Cinema is the one that’s more of a fully realized album, each talent (primarily Carl Newman, Dan Bejar and Neko Case) giving their all, showing Broken Social Scene that there’s room up north for two indie rock supergroups. Furthermore, it’s the first of the band’s albums to match, and even surpass, its members solo works. AC Newman’s The Slow Wonder, Destroyer’s Your Blues and Neko Case’s Blacklisted offer stiff competition, to be sure. But Twin Cinema manages to pull it all together for one singularly overwhelming listen.
While The New Pornographers largely dealt in subtle charm before, the band’s growth and change on Twin Cinema is remarkably noticeable. Production has been beefed up significantly, as the opening title track reveals within an instant. The burly guitar and bass tracks, the effects-laden riffs — it’s a gi-normous affair this time around, and they clearly spared no expense on making it sound that much better. And honestly, their sound didn’t require much improvement. Electric Version still sounds just a little bit better every time I listen to it. Twin Cinema, however, bowls you over on first listen, suggesting, after all, that the idea of warming up to an album was vastly overrated.
“Twin Cinema,” as well as the stutter-stepping rocker “The Jessica Numbers” and the sample-repeating “Falling Through Your Clothes” are chief among Newman’s songs here, each one revealing a new level of depth and novelty to the accomplished pop collective. Meanwhile, Bejar’s acoustic “Streets of Fire” and more upbeat “Jackie Dressed in Cobras” offer a less straightforward, more artsy side of the group. And Case’s showcases on “The Bones of An Idol” and “These Are the Fables,” uncharacteristically find the chanteuse taking on the slower, more complex numbers, as opposed to the straight-shooting power pop tunes of yore like “Letter from an Occupant” or “The Laws Have Been Changed.” As such, her songs are some of the album’s most impressive, but having to picking a favorite on this album would prove impossible. One could go insane just pondering it.
The New Pornographers were always good, but now they’re great, treading lightly near “brilliant” and “genius” territory. Though, stylistically, not much has changed, they focused more on the details, which, apparently, make quite a difference. Twin Cinema is an album that I wanted to be good, yet was surprised to hear that it was far better than my expectations. It is albums like these for which the word “classic” is reserved.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.