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The New Pornographers

With their 2000 debut album, Mass Romantic, the New Pornographers established themselves as 21st century torchbearers of smart, sophisticated power pop. Hailing from Vancouver, the band's deep roster of individual singer/songwriters and crafty instrumentalists gave them a unique, multi-voiced advantage and posed them as more of a collective or supergroup, albeit one with a surprisingly streamlined sonic identity. Spearheaded by Carl Newman, along with mainstays Neko Case, Dan Bejar, John Collins, and Todd Fancey, the New Pornographers were consistent critical favorites throughout the decade with standout releases like 2005's Twin Cinema and 2007's Challengers. Even as membership began to fluctuate over the coming years, they reached a new commercial peak with 2014's Brill Bruisers. The band ended their second decade with 2019's In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, then kicked off a new contract with Merge Records on 2023's Continue as a Guest, their ninth album. Newman formed the New Pornographers in 1997, their name inspired by Japanese director Shōhei Imamura's film The Pornographers. Fresh off a stint leading Vancouver power pop outfit Zumpano, he stacked his new project's roster with other luminaries from the city's vibrant late-'90s indie rock scene. By 1999, the New Pornographers boasted a wrecking crew of prominent Vancouver-area players including singer/guitarist Dan Bejar (Destroyer), bassist John Collins (the Evaporators), lead guitarist Todd Fancey (Limblifter, Fancey), drummer Kurt Dahle (Limblifter), keyboardist and independent filmmaker Blaine Thurier, and American singer Neko Case, who was living in the city at the time of the band's formation. Recorded sporadically over the previous three years and finally released in 2000, the New Pornographers' first album, Mass Romantic, was a resounding critical success and in Canada it went on to win the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year. Having so many bandmembers involved in other projects presented its difficulties, and it would be another three years before the band regrouped for their follow-up. Released in 2003 by American label Matador, Electric Version built on the promise of their debut and helped cement the New Pornographers' reputation for pairing complex, melodic pop with rock muscle, not unlike the Cars or Cheap Trick. With lead vocals generally split between Newman, Case, and Bejar, they also offered an appealing mix of tones and styles united by a shared musical sense. The group reached a new creative peak with 2005's Twin Cinema, a career standout that landed on numerous critics' year-end lists and was shortlisted for Canada's Polaris Music Prize. By this point, Case's own success as a solo artist often prevented her from gigging with the band, and singer/keyboardist (and Newman's niece) Kathryn Calder was recruited to cover her parts on tour as well as add her own voice to future albums. Keeping a similar pace to melodic peers like the Shins and Spoon, the New Pornographers were in a peak period of indie acclaim and popularity as they made their fourth album. Though mellower in style than its predecessors, 2007's Challengers was consistent in quality and hit number four on Billboard's Indie chart. 2009 saw the group contributing a cover of Bejar's Destroyer song "Hey, Snow White" to the AIDS benefit compilation Dark Was the Night while they readied their fifth album. The New Pornographers' first release of the next decade was 2010's Together, a dense but cohesive set that featured guest appearances from fellow indie stars St. Vincent, Zach Condon (Beirut), and Will Sheff (Okkervil River). During the four-year span that followed, the band's lone output was a 2012 cover of "Think About Me" for the Fleetwood Mac tribute album Just Tell Me That You Want Me. They came back strong, however, with 2014's Brill Bruisers, a punchy effort that gave the group their highest American chart placement when it peaked at number 13 on the Billboard 200. Midway through that year, longtime drummer Kurt Dahle was replaced by Joe Seiders. Three years later, the band's seventh album, Whiteout Conditions, was also the first not to feature Bejar, who went on hiatus from the group. Their first record for the Concord label, all songs were written by Newman with he, Case, and Calder splitting up the vocals. With the addition of newcomer Simi Stone (violin, vocals), this lineup remained in place for 2019's In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, though Bejar's name did appear as a co-writer on one song, "Need Some Giants." In 2021, as the New Pornographers prepared to play a series of concerts highlighting early albums Mass Romantic and Twin Cinema, more lineup shifts occurred with the departure of Stone and longtime keyboardist Thurier and the temporary return of Bejar. Two years later, the band reunited, this time sans Bejar, and signed with Merge to release their ninth album, 2023's Continue as a Guest.
© Timothy Monger /TiVo


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