The New Pornographers, 'Challengers' (Matador)

7
Challengers
Critical Mass
Label: Matador

by Mikael Wood

Last year, New Pornographers mastermind Carl Newman relocated from Vancouver to Brooklyn, a move you might assume would increase the energy level of the band's already exuberant power pop. Yet Challengers is their least frantic effort yet -- instead of goosing the tempos and hardening the guitars, the Big Apple's intense buzz has evidently inspired Newman's contemplative side. Too bad the bandleader called his 2004 solo debut The Slow Wonder; the title better reflects this one.

That's not to suggest that we're entirely in Simon & Garfunkel territory here, although "Adventures in Solitude" does conjure a lovely library-folk vibe. "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth" bounces along on a go-go surf-rock groove, while "Failsafe" rides the menacing tremolo riff from the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?"

Still, most of Challengers trades the fuzzy synths and galloping drums of the outfit's past records for acoustic-based ruminations on matters of the heart. Even the cuts that feature lead vocals by Neko Case -- usually the Pornos' brightest rave-ups -- sound reined in, as on the title track, where Case embraces a new lover as "whatever the mess you are." The melodic sense of Newman and cowriter Dan Bejar (who contributes three of his own songs) keeps things from stalling out, but you've gotta wonder where Newman's been spending his New York minutes.

Now Hear This: The New Pornographers - "Myriad Harbour" DOWNLOAD MP3

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