The New Pornographers (Kathryn Calder – vocals, keyboards, guitar, Neko Case – vocals, John Collins – bass, Todd Fancey – lead guitar, Carl Newman – vocals, guitar, Joe Seiders – drums, vocals, Blaine Thurier – keyboards, synthesizers) hail from Canada, so that might explain the title of their new album – Whiteout Conditions. Such things are frequent there in the winters. I can’t help but think, however, that the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the result of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and the voter base that led to that result. Carl Newman and Neko Case are openly critical of President Trump on their respective Twitter feeds, so it’s not too much of a stretch.
Judging by the bright, uplifting feel of this record, the band assures us that everything will be all right. The opener, “Play Money,” is full of brilliant keyboards even as Ms. Case sings lyrics like “…just when I thought we beat the system, I knew a gentleman of leisure. He loved to talk about his treasure and how he got it for a song.”
The title track is a tale of some depression Newman’s admitted he was feeling at the time he wrote it (Shock at the result of the 2016 election?) “Flying and flat on the ceiling, I’m barely dealing…I wasn’t hoping for a win, I was hoping for freedom,” he sings, disguising the song as a tale of a man who’s sick of his job with pulsing synths and almost New Order beats. The first single, “High Ticket Attractions,” amps up the synths and witty lyrics (“You can’t imagine all the factions that form around high ticket attractions.”) even more, but now they’re backed with solid rock drumming by Seiders.
“This Is the World of the Theatre” pretty much wears its meaning on its sleeve. Like many of the tracks off their last album, Brill Bruisers, it sounds like an ELO track. “Darling Shade” has some of the funkiest bass on the record as Newman and his niece, Calder, sing, “When you give your mind to your voices, you accept the terms of your sentence.” “Second Sleep” is about insomnia (Due to stress?) as Peter Hook-style bass drives the track. “Colosseums” sprinkles in a bit of psychedelia as Newman sings about being overcome by, and warning against the distractions of, grand spectacle (“Colosseums, colosseums of the mind. Right on time, celebration in the ruin. Elation is moving in a wave. I avert my eyes, but I still see the lions.”). I love the percussion on this. It reminds me of Oingo Boingo songs, actually.
“We’ve Been Here Before” doesn’t sprinkle in psychedelia, it lays it on like a sweet strawberry jam. Just listen to those synths and vocals and you’ll hear it. Newman and Case assure us that we’ll get out of these times of “gods of bad parties.”
“Juke” is electro-psych with Newman singing about shattered crystal balls and people diverging on many paths after chaos explodes around them. The much-appreciated dive into psych-rock continues on “Clockwise.” It’s something you wouldn’t be surprised to hear on a Besnard Lakes album. The closer is “Avalanche Alley.” It opens with keyboards reminiscent of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” and then breaks into a great clickety-clack beat. I love that they chose to end an album about post-election blues with such a peppy, upbeat track.
As usual, the New Pornographers have crafted a great record. They’ve yet to swing and miss. Whiteout Conditions let us know that everything will be all right. Winter always gives way to spring. Whiteouts always clear sooner or later.
Keep your mind open.
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