Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The New Pornographers: Electric Version

Power-pop music is often mistaken for being as easy to make as it is to dismiss: After all, thousands of bands have married major chords to sing-along choruses, so it can't be too challenging, right? But the genre's best practitioners transcend familiarity–whether through impeccable production, sharp songwriting, indestructible hooks, or slick showmanship–and that's much tougher to pull off. Then there's Vancouver's The New Pornographers, which accomplishes all of the above, making power-pop music that somehow adds up to the sum of its many influences (The Cars, Cheap Trick, et al) and parts, which include powerhouse chanteuse Neko Case, Destroyer's Dan Bejar, and Carl Newman of the inexplicably forgotten treasure Zumpano. It's difficult to overstate the appeal of the group's 2000 debut Mass Romantic, which produced an insane rush of pop-geek nirvana that's only enhanced by multiple listens: At its best, on "Letter From An Occupant," one track mashes five songs' worth of outsized hooks into one dizzying pop high. The new Electric Version never quite produces its equal, but it comes close: "The Laws Have Changed" mashes only three or four songs' worth of outsized hooks into one dizzying pop high. The rest of Electric Version similarly adheres to the sublime formula of its predecessor, complete with busy production, copious keyboards, enormous hooks, and an uncanny ability to work esoteric titles ("It's Only Divine Right," "The New Face Of Zero And One," "Miss Teen Wordpower") into inimitably brainy lyrics–not to mention, in the case of all three examples, terrific songs. Like Mass Romantic, Electric Version is a bit too stingy in dispensing Case's performances: With the knockout exceptions of "The Laws Have Changed" and "All For Swinging You Around," she's relegated to backup vocals, though even those improve every moment in which they appear. But what's the point in complaining that Electric Version doesn't offer enough of one of its countless good things? The only thrill missing here is the enviable joy of hearing The New Pornographers for the first time.


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