There is an impression that has caught on over the past couple of years that indie pop group The New Pornographers have strayed from that power-pop sound that got them so much initial attention. While I’ll admit that the ratios on albums like Challengers and Together moved more toward the sentimental and constructed (more in line with solo records by A.C. Newman, Neko Case; less with Dan Bejar who regularly brought his pop sensibilities out strictly for The New Pornos), that is to discount tracks like “All The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth,” “Crash Years,” and “Your Hands (Together).” Nonetheless, the feeling among fans that the group had moved from the consistency of Mass Romantic through Twin Cinema remained persistent and much have been expressed to Newman in some way.
A.C. (Carl) Newman is the primary writer for the group, and a lot of the weight has fallen on his doorstep, and is seemingly tied to his migration from Canada to New York. Those points are important as they are directly tied in the title of the band’s forthcoming record Brill Bruisers. First is the invocation of the Brill Building, the songwriting factory where not only were some of the biggest Big Band era songs created, but later in the 1950s and 1960s, where working schlubs like Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry, Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, and even Sonny Bono and Paul Simon began a march to legend.
Maybe the most instructive of these were Burt Bacharach and Hal David because of their meticulous, highly orchestrated, sometimes lugubrious pop songs, all the things people had claimed the New Pornos had become. So, with a title like Brill Bruisers, you can expect both an upping of the ante and maybe a bristling against the tag at the same time. The track “Brill Bruisers” tends to disagree a bit. This is no weekend with beer run-through caught on tape. It has the poppy background singing, but also has a deep rocking thump to it, and might be one of the band’s most dense songs yet.
Add to that the realization that “brill” was also a slang term in the 1960s, prevalent with the British, that was short for “brilliant,” and indeed there is a line in the song mentioning “brilliant bruisers.” Plus, measured against either “Crash Years” or “Your Hands (Together)” I’d say the tempo for this is even slower, so if your expectation is for a track like “Use It” or “Star Bodies,” you might wonder what the hubbub was about. In other words, all this speculation will probably be upended when the thing finally debuts in full.
That said, I’ve yet to be completely disappointed by a New Pornographers album, and this first song release provides a promising taster. A lot of the folks I know that felt shortchanged by previous records from them are cautiously hopeful. I see no reason why they shouldn’t be. Brill Bruisers is expected to arrive in late August. Take a listen to the new track below, and feel free to drag your icon around the file-player screen for some pleasant, neon-colored time wasting.