Album review: The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers’ sixth studio album and first in four years, is simultaneously an impressive return to form and a progression of the band’s sound. The album stands among the Vancouver collective’s best earlier works Twin Cinema and The Electric Version, as focused, intelligently written pop music.

Yet, rather than just existing as a retread of these past glories, Brill Bruisers manages to expand the band’s sound in unpredictable new directions. Chiefly, there is a newfound focus on synth textures that serves to enhance and distinguish their already impressive songwriting.

This progression seems like a necessary step for the band, after stalling slightly with their relatively mellow previous record Together. Brill Bruisers is all energy, it’s a fighter of an album that proves that the band has more than a little life in it.

The title track opens the proceedings, immediately pulling the listener in with its deceptively simple “ba-ba-ba” refrain and propulsive beat. It bores its way into your head like the best pop songs do and soon, without your knowledge or consent, you’ll find yourself humming along.

While the title track could easily fit on one of the band’s earlier, more traditional rock releases, much of the rest of the album serves to move the band forward into a more synth indebted direction. That is not to say that electronic instrumentation overwhelms the album, rather the tasteful synths of “Champions of Red Wine” or “Backstairs” subtly reinforce the celebratory mood of the songs.

Instead of feeling like a forced attempt to keep up with the times or a drastic makeover, this electronic progression of the band feels quite organic. The New Pornographers have existed as a group for fifteen years and are all accomplished musicians in their own right, so this comes as no surprise.

Although they work as a cohesive unit throughout the album, the eight member band’s greatest strength has always been the diversity of their sound. The New Pornographers’s three lead vocalists, alt country legend Neko Case, AC Newman, and Dan Bejar, all have distinct voices and often a lyrical focus. While Newman is the primary songwriter and sings lead most often, Case’s voice serves as his powerful, melancholy foil while Bejar’s spoken-word style musings further diversify the album.

Somehow The New Pornographers have always made this eclectic mix work. While they have slipped into a formula in the past, Brill Bruisers succeeds in furthering their sound while being firmly grounded in their sophisticated pop songwriting.

While the album begins with the title track’s callback to the band’s power-pop roots, the finale of “You Tell Me Where” exists as something entirely new. Newman and Case trade lines over a minimal synth and bass line that eventually explodes into a cathartic, celebratory climax. It’s a perfect closer that couldn’t have existed on any of their previous records, a reminder that even after 15 years the New Pornographers are nowhere near complacency.