A.C. Newman should be studied by science in an attempt to discover the secret of his dual creative successes as the primary spark plug for The New Pornographers and as a solo artist. Newman and the Pornographers are riding an unprecedented hot streak since their 2001 debut, Mass Romantic, with the band notching four consecutive albums that have garnered considerable acclaim with a pair of equally adored solo projects tossed in for good measure. The streak becomes even more impressive when you factor in the work of other Pornographers, which includes Kathryn Calder’s Immaculate Machine, Neko Case’s exquisite catalog and Dan Bejar’s wonderfully weird Destroyer. Each successive Pornographers album has shown some impressive level of maturation while still operating within the Beatles-meets-The Move-meets-Indie Rock paradigm that has defined them from the start, achieving the almost impossible feat of evolving without alienating their fan base.
The Porns’ fifth album, Together, continues the band’s unparalleled string of studio excellence while furthering the concrete-instrument-and-arrangement approach of 2007’s baroque Pop and inexplicably misunderstood Challengers. Together’s sound seems more moodily reflective and less frenetically adrenalized, an atmosphere reinforced by a sonorous cello; even Case’s normally exuberant appearances are more restrained (“The Crash Years,” “My Shepherd”). And yet there is an irresistible, contemporized ’60s Pop energy on Together, even in the album’s more subdued context (“Your Hands Together,” “We End Up Together”).
Newman’s quirky and perfectly indecipherable wordplay is heightened by his gorgeous melodies (the darkly bouncy “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” the ABBA-tributes-Sgt. Pepper lilt of “A Bit Out of My Bed”) and are, as always, wonderfully counterpointed by Bejar’s equally odd contributions (“Silver Jenny Dollar,” “If You Can’t Seem My Mirrors,” “Daughters of Sorrow”).
Together is the pinnacle of The New Pornographers’ growth and evolution, at least until they grow and evolve a little more next time out.