The New Pornographers Twin Cinema

[Matador; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: indie pop, indie rock
Others: Neko Case, The Shins, Destroyer

Reviews of this album are going to go one of two ways -- really positive, and lukewarm. No one's going to trash Twin Cinema, and they're idiots if they do: the truth is, the New Pornographers probably couldn't write a truly bad song if they had rifles to their heads. Two rock-solid albums into the game, no one's going to doubt their ability to put out a decent record. Everyone's expecting (and rightfully so) some really catchy songs and the same pornoproduction and sound. In that way, Twin Cinema seems like it would be a pretty straightforward review in the "yeah it's more of the same, but the same is pretty damn good" vein. But the problem that critics have to face -- and it's a biggie -- with this newest release is the haunting spectre of the Pornos' solo releases.
2004 was one hell of a year for the members of the New Pornographers. The group's two premier members, Carl Newman (recording solo for the first time as A.C. Newman) and Dan Bejar (Destroyer), each took the time to release universally lauded solo efforts. People tended to praise A.C. Newman's The Slow Wonder a bit more, maybe since the strength of the debut album caught people more off guard given Destroyer's good track record (and maybe because Your Blues was a little too weird for most tastes), but both albums ranked on year-end lists and reaffirmed the talents that we'd already known these two songwriters possessed.

But with solo albums so good, it seemed like the New Pornographers might have been made redundant. Would their next album be more than just the sum of the solo parts? The bar was raised high for Twin Cinema, and if it couldn't manage to clear it, then who would bother listening? The 2004 solo albums surprised us all with how tight they were, how individual the two artists sounded while still retaining some of the traditional New Pornographers' feel. Could it be that Newman and Bejar were more suited for their separate careers? Could it be that a collective is just a waste of their time?

So either Twin Cinema is better than the combined best halves of The Slow Wonder and Your Blues or it's not, and that's probably going to be the deciding factor in most reviews (of course, that sort of judgment is pretty subjective, and it runs into some fairly typical apples-and-oranges pitfalls, but, come one, what sort of criticism doesn't have those problems?). And which is it?

The correct answer is that on the whole, Twin Cinema has the better songs, and there are a lot of reasons why. For one, the muddled sound that prevails on the Pornos' three releases is simply more appealing than the strained cleaner tones of The Slow Wonder or the heavy orchestral synth patterns of Your Blues. And Twin Cinema relies pretty heavily on Neko Case, who shares the microphone for the melodies on a good number of the tracks and lays down solid harmonies on most of the others. But what matters most is that Twin Cinema easily sports some of the best tracks of the Pornos' collective careers. "Jackie, Dressed In Cobras" and "The Jessica Numbers" makes for an absolutely fantastic, (relatively) hard rocking 1-2 Bejar-Newman punch; and of the twelve other songs, only a couple aren't really worth listening to. The songs on Twin Cinema are simply of a higher caliber than anything the Pornos' individual members can create by themselves or had created together before. So while Newman and Bejar may be able to hold their own on the indie rock front, Twin Cinema proves that it's better for all of us that they stick together for the long haul.

1. Twin Cinema
2. Bones Of An Idol, The
3. Use It
4. Bleeding Heart Show, The
5. Jackie, Dressed In Cobras
6. Jessica Numbers, The
7. These Are The Fables
8. Sing Me Spainsh Techno
9. Falling Through Yoru Clothes
10. Broken Breads
11. Three Or Four
12. Star Bodies
13. Streets Of Fire
14. Stacked Crooked