With the 2003 release of Electric Version, the New Pornographers became one of those cred-heavy indie-rock bands that could essentially do no wrong. Listeners of all stripes were able to sink their teeth into any number of the band’s many assets: the sultry contributions from Neko Case, the solid leadership of frontman A.C. Newman, or for the more adventurous, the quirky sing-alongs from Destroyer’s evil genius, Dan Bejar. It’s a super-group of the seemingly mismatched. The key, though, was that when these vastly different voices joined forces, the result was a sound that only the most miserable of miserable bastards could dismiss. The songs joyously paid respect to previous musical eras without falling into the over-stylized trappings of many retro-pop acts. Or, in short: it was really fun and really smart.
But as Interpol will no doubt confirm, it’s not easy following up a record that achieved such elevated status. Some people want more of the same while others will cry “repetitive” and “lazy.” Some will want to see growth, while others will implore, “Stick to what you know!” It’s a tricky situation, and all an artist can do is ignore it and hope for the best — exactly what the New Pornographers have done.
That, of course, is not to say they made another great record, as Twin Cinema falls a bit short. Newman and the gang focus less on the sugary-sweet melodies they’re known for, honing in on a slightly darker, more complicated sound. The rhythm section is a bit heavier, the guitars noticeably more spastic, and the song structures less endearingly linear as they’ve been in the past. The band is also sounding more like, well, a band. The vocal harmonies are practically non-stop, and perhaps it has something to do with the recording or mixing of the album, but it becomes somewhat grating after only a few songs. Or, in short: it’s not very fun and only moderately smart