First Listen: The New Pornographers – Challengers

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New New PornCanadian “supergroup” New Pornographers made two really good albums, and then made a great one, 2005’s Twin Cinema, where the unique aspects of their 47 (or so) members seemed to gel magically. Cinema‘s power-pop was oddly familiar and comfortable, but sounded like nothing else: Fleetwood Mac? The Cars? Whatever it was, each track on that album seemed to top the previous one for sheer joyfulness, erupting into blissful codas of “hey-las” in three-part harmony. Even the contributions of the shambolic Dan Bejar (who usually annoys me) seemed charming. It was my #2 album of the year, just behind good old M.I.A.

That’s why Challengers is such a disappointment. The unified perfection of Cinema seems to have spun out and disintegrated, like a hurricane moving over cold water. Opener “My Rights Versus Yours” is nice, but it’s a pale imitation of Cinema‘s “Bleeding Heart Show,” with a groove that never seems to get off the ground. Neko Case’s voice is still awe-inspiring, and on the title track, there are glimpses of her greatness, but the song’s awkward phrasing seems to strangle her. Bejar gets track 4, “Myriad Harbor,” and it’s a terrible Pixies rip-off. Next. Relief comes on track 7, “Unguided,” with bandleader A.C. Newman on vocals, but it still sounds like a Cinema track played at half-speed, and at 6:33, it’s three minutes too long.

Okay, I’m looking like a negative jerk, let’s find something good to say. Track 9, “Go Places,” again lead by Case, has a swaying bar-room charm reminiscent of the Pogues, and track 11, “Adventures in Solitude,” starts as a lovely, quiet ballad, with a delicate refrain of “we thought we lost you,” although its rocking climax never really rocks.

A quick look around the intertubes shows there’s people who think Bejar is the best part of the band, and people who think this is their best album. The NPs definitely reward multiple listenings, so perhaps further attention will uncover Challengers‘ appeal. But right now, I’m not feeling it.

Challengers is out 8/21 on Matador.
Hear mp3s at Stereogum here; I tried to check out their official website but my work internet censors are preventing me from doing so. Huh.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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