The New Pornographers – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights (Album Review)

Coming out of Vancouver, British Columbia over two decades ago, The New Pornographers are set to return with their new album, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights. Slated for release on Friday, September 27th, it marks The New Pornographers’ eight studio album and first release via the band’s own Collected Work Records imprint in partnership with Concord Records. 

A relatively quick follow-up to 2017’s Whiteout Conditions for the eight-artist collective – Carl Newman (vocals, guitar), Neko Case (vocals), John Collins (bass), Blaine Thurier (keyboards, synthesizer), Todd Fancey (lead guitar), Kathryn Calder (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Joe Seiders (drums, vocals), and Simi Stone (violin, vocals) – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights is complete with eleven new tracks.

Starting with the slow build-up of the starry-sounding “You’ll Need a Backseat Driver,” exuding early ’70s Pop sensibilities, it is followed by the slightly more upbeat, Doo-Wop-inspired recent single “The Surprise Knock.” However, this only reverts to a similar mood as the opening track, in the form of the album’s lead single “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Love.” Then there is “Colossus of Rhodes,” which begins unassumingly like a piano ballad but immediately bursts into glittery beats and splinters of Synthpop proportions.

Changing the pace and style, “Higher Beam” features a subtly Baroque Pop with its string orchestration, exuding hints of Belle and Sebastian (“The Same Star”) or even The Waterboys (“Nearest Thing to Hip”) when the Scottish bands are being bluesy and melodramatic. This orchestral trajectory carries onto “Dreamlike and on the Rush,” standing out as it highlights The New Pornographers’ trademark male-female vocal interplay. This is while the ensuing piano ballad “You Won’t Need Those Where We’re Going” then strums some sad heartstrings in the sentimental core of the listener—short, simple, and poignant.

The New Pornographers turn poppy and sunny once again with the dancey and catchy stompers “Need Some Giants” and “Opening Ceremony,” both of which swim in the same chord progression and marching rhythm. Thereafter, “One Kind of Solomon” rocks the boat and shakes the waves as it undulates tunefully and ripples playfully. Lastly, they conclude their comparatively less complex new batch of tracks with the big, celebratory, and anthemic sound of “Leather on the Seat”—a perfect closer for a stylistically cohesive albeit liberally diverse album.

Going strong twenty years later, The New Pornographers are still up and running, continually pushing the boundaries of Canadian Rock music and producing both groundbreaking and roots-grounded records. In the Morse Code of Brake Lights is another worthy addition not only to the collective discography, but also to the individual endeavors talents of each member. That is why Cryptic Rock gives this album 4 out of 5 stars.

The New Pornographers 2019 Tour Dates:
September 27 Madison, WI Majestic Theater
September 28 Urbana, IL Pygmalion Music Festival
September 29 Columbia, MO Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival
October 1 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue
October 2 Chicago, IL Vic Theater
October 3 Detroit, MI Majestic Theater
November 4 Boston, MA Royale
November 5 Washington, DC 9:30 Club
November 7 Brooklyn, NY Brooklyn Steel
November 8 Philadelphia, PA Union Transfer
November 10 Raleigh, NC Lincoln Theater
November 11 Asheville, NC The Orange Peel
November 12 Atlanta, GA Variety Playhouse

Purchase In the Morse Code of Brake Lights:

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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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