The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions (Album Review)

What is Indie Pop Rock? Initially regarded as an offshoot of Post-Punk New Wave that peaked commercially in the 1980s, the evolution of Indie Pop Rock was initially dominated in the 2000s by American bands such as The Strokes, Interpol, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Killers. Or, maybe the media at large are, for the most part, just either being Americocentric or Anglocentric. As a result, the attention of many listeners of this kind of music had firstly been directed onto the United States music scene.

However, soon after, a wave of similarly styled bands from the other part of North America began to ride the tide and make their presence felt. That said, Canada caught up, catapulting into commercial popularity its share of equally interesting groups operating in the genre included Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, The Dears, The Hidden Cameras, Hot Hot Heat, Metric, Stars, and of course, The New Pornographers.

Interestingly enough, many of these Canadian bands are comprised by more than six members. Additionally, their penchant to incorporate into their music a diversity of sounds and instruments that are often more Folk-associated than Rock-based is obviously a reference to or natural expression of their multicultural Canadian heritage. Among these bands, The New Pornographers proves to be one of the most prolific and quirkiest ones.

Formed in 1999, in Vancouver, British Columbia, The New Pornographers combines the anti-commercial stance of Indie music, the mainstream sensibility of Pastoral Pop, and the suburban feel of countryside Folk Rock. In their eighteen years’ existence, the current collective of Carl Newman (vocals, guitar), Neko Case (vocals), John Collins (bass), Blaine Thurier (keyboards, synthesizer), Todd Fancey (lead guitar), Kathryn Calder (vocals, keyboards, guitar), and Joe Seiders (drums, vocals) has released seven solid albums, from 2000’s Mass Romantic through 2014’s Brill Bruisers.

Now, on April 7, 2017, they return with their newest album, Whiteout Conditions. Released via Concord Music Group, The New Pornographers’ seventh effort is oozing with classic ’80s American New Wave sensibilities in the sonic tradition of The B-52s, Blondie, and The Flirts. Starting with “Play Money,” its Moog- sounding keyboard melodies may remind the initiated of The B-52s’ “Legal Tender.” The vibes shift a notch higher with the upbeat title track, followed by the choppy-rhythm and synth-glazed “High Ticket Attractions.” Then there is the New Romantic pulse and beats of “This Is the World of the Theatre.”

With its cyclical keyboard melodies and sparse, slashing guitar strums, “Darling Shade” harks to the Pre-Punk Art Rock of Roxy Music (“Virginia Plain”). The ensuing “Second Sleep” is another galloping Synthpop strobe-lit stomper; it will fit on a playlist of danceable New Wave classics that include Bronski Beat’s “Hit That Perfect Beat,” Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” and Blue Zoo’s “Somewhere in the World There’s a Cowboy Smiling.”

The percussive elements and cheer-type vocal harmonies of “Colosseums” sound like a blenderized B-Movie’s “Switch On, Switch Off,” Republica’s “Ready to Go,” Stan Ridgway’s “The Big Heat,” The Ting Tings’ “That’s Not My Name,” Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” and Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough.” The slow tempo and robotic but romantic flare of the next track, “We’ve Been Here Before,” is certainly a nod to the experimental and pioneering purveyors of Synthpop, such as Kraftwerk (“The Telephone Call”) and Giorgio Moroder (“Together in Electric Dreams”). The undulating rhythm flows to the slightly syncopated “Juke.”

The penultimate “Clockwise” returns the listener to the generally head-bobbing dance-floor trip of The New Pornographers’ latest offering; the slicing guitar strums and female-male vocal interplay remain permeating across the left and the right speakers. Crank the volume up to experience this sonic explosion in full glory. Finally, the album ends with the breakneck blast and cascading tempo of “Avalanche Alley,” living up to its title.

The Canadian pie of Indie Pop/Rock music gives the genre some kind of a charming novelty…a reserved, romantic, and rustic cultural sensibility that counterbalances the directness, abrasiveness, and cockiness of many of their American counterparts. So, the offerings of bands like The New Pornographers are always a worthy addition to the listening pleasure and record collection of any self-proclaimed aficionado of Indie music. Add to that, the frenetic energy that the new songs of the innovative New Pornographers exudes is a welcome departure from the cautious tendency of their previous releases. CrypticRock gives Whiteout Conditions 4 out of 5 stars.

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ALfie vera mellaAuthor posts

Born in 1971, in Metro Manila, Philippines, aLfie vera mella is a healthcare worker, singer/songwriter, and editor/writer. He was the frontman of the ’90s-peaking Philippine Alternative Rock / New Wave band Half Life Half Death, which released a full-length album and several singles on Viva Records. aLfie worked at Diwa Scholastic Press as an editor/writer of academic textbooks and supplementary magazines, focusing on Science & Technology and English Grammar & Literature. In 2003, aLfie migrated to Canada; he has since been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He works full-time at a healthcare institution, while serving as the associate contributing editor of Filipino Journal—a local community newspaper in Winnipeg—tackling Literature, Languages, Cultures, Lifestyles, and Music. aLfie has been a music journalist since the mid-’90s for various print magazines as well as websites. He started writing album reviews for Cryptic Rock in 2015. In 2016, aLfie published Part One (Literature & Languages and Their Cultural Significance) of his Essay Series, Can You Hear the Sound of a Falling Leaf?; in 2021, his first book of poetry, Pag-íhip sa Dáhon ng Kahápon [Blowing Leaves of Yesterday]. In his spare time, he enjoys reading books and listening to music. aLfie is a dedicated father to his now 13-year-old son, Evawwen; and a loving husband to Kathryn Mella, who herself moonlights also as a writer aside from holding a degree in Bachelor of Arts, Major in Sociology.

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