The New Pornographers began as a kind of busman’s holiday for a bunch of Vancouver-based musicians who had careers in other acts and a yen for power pop they couldn’t indulge as well elsewhere. But nobody releases a top-to-bottom classic debut like Mass Romantic if they’re not serious about making great pop songs. Ten years and five albums later, the accidental band sounds as purposeful as ever. Opening with the sound of strings, Together continues the move toward a more lush sound begun with 2007’s Challengers. The hooks remain as prominent as ever, but here they arrive atop a few more layers and with a little more outside help, including guest appearances from the Dap-Kings’ horn section, Beirut’s Zach Condon, and a guitar solo from Annie Clark. Just as notably, Together keeps Challengers’ bluer tone. Chief songwriters A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar continue to traffic in elusive lyrics, but there’s an unmistakably wistful tone to much of the album, from Bejar’s “Daughters Of Sorrow” to the uptempo, Neko Case-sung “Crash Years.”
The core remains the same, however. The band writes big, catchy pop songs—and the occasional heartbreaking ballad—and delivers them with flash, filigree, and a healthy sense of pop history. But Together also proves why changing for the sake of change is a fool’s game. “Your Hands Together” has the propulsion of a lost Mass Romantic track, but the band has developed a richer, deeper chemistry over the years. The album ends with “We End Up Together,” a song at least partly about how we get stuck with the people with whom we’re supposed to be stuck, whether by blood, chance, or choice. That’s true even of bands that come together on a lark and the listeners who come to rely on them to stay reliably terrific year after year.