Canada’s penchant for popping out musical super groups may always be a mystery, but there’s no denying its cash-crop potential. The sheer amount of people on stage at your average Broken Social Scene show is spectacle-esque, and I’ve got to assume Traveling Wilburys’ fans were prone to wetting themselves on a regular basis. Whatever creates super groups — whether it be record execs, cult Kool-Aid, or just plain ol’ artist creativity — I do know that they get eaten up by the college radio community faster than vegan burritos at a dress-like-your-favorite-90210-character dance party. I’ve also determined that, in the public eye, people drool over super groups without a thought given to the actual results. But what about The New Pornographers?
Originally formed by Carl Newman (Zumpano), John Collins (The Evaporators), Dan Bejar (Destroyer), Fisher Rose, and powerhouse vocalist Neko Case, The New Pornographers took a delightfully poignant page out of the power-pop book, which is best displayed in their earliest work (Mass Romantic, Electric Version, etc.). After taking a three-year break, The New Pornographers are back with more musical guests than ever. In addition to welcoming back the band’s former members, Together features collaborations with Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Zach Condon (Beirut), and Will Sheff (Okkervil River).
While Together is, like its predecessors, a cheerful pop record, it does at times suffer from the ‘too many cooks’ syndrome. Where there was power-pop before, this time The Pornographers’ material gets downright authoritative. Someone must have given Dan Bejar the memo that the more strings you use, the better ‘orchestral’ sound you get. Case in point: opening track “Moves” ambushes the listener with heavy cello and distorted guitar (because this time, they obviously mean business), which in true NP fashion moves on to cheery piano and merry vocals. Those cello strains segue into the second track, “Crash Years,” which sounds far more agreeable, as this time Neko Case’s vocals are pushed to the forefront.
If anything, Together proves that The New Pornographers would be nowhere without Neko Case, who saves this record from sounding completely overwrought. In fact, I think I would prefer this album if they voted Dan Bejar off the island altogether. Where Carl Newman’s vocals blend nicely with Case’s, Bejar just sounds like he’s ready to record another Destroyer album. Bejar’s weirdo-beardo voice takes center stage on “Silver Jenny Dollar,” which somehow ends up sounding like the ‘womp-womp’ sound over and over again.
But this is not to say that Together is a dud, or even anything close to it. Songs like “My Shepherd” are yet more reminders why Neko Case is an invaluable member of the band, and songs like “Crash Years” and “Up in the Dark” are riddled with radio-friendly hooks. And while it does have moments where the listener is reminded of why they love power-pop, Together ends up sounding too vocally divided as an album and at times too top-heavy with orchestral arrangements. Like Nina Garcia says on Project Runway, “You have a lot of great ideas, but you need to edit.”