Essential New Music: The New Pornographers’ “Whiteout Conditions”

The headline for Whiteout Conditions, the New Pornographers’ latest triumph, isn’t necessarily that the adrenalized Canadian septet has crafted its seventh collection of infectiously pinwheeling indie rock; the breaking news would be if the band hadn’t. But there are significant firsts and diversions on Whiteout Conditions that bear examination, given the consistency the Pornographers maintain on their new missive. To begin, Whiteout Conditions represents the first New Porns album without longtime drummer Kurt Dahle, who left the band after 2014’s Brill Bruisers, and the first with new beatkeeper Joe Seiders. It also represents the first LP without co-songwriter Dan Bejar, who was presumably busy with Destroyer pursuits, and his absence is the most pointed; his often hallucinogenic contributions made frontman A.C. Newman’s impenetrable lyric pretzels seem sane by comparison.

It is Newman’s steady creative hand and brilliant understanding of pop music’s beating human heart that once again win the day on Whiteout Conditions. Newman and Co. up their own ante from the synth pop pulse of Brill Bruisers, taking a chilly motorik cue from ’70s krautrock and heating it to a boil over the Pornographers’ sterno can of undeniable hooks and fearless melodicism. “Play Money” and “High Ticket Attractions” throb at the exuberant new-wave pace that has marked the band’s catalog from the start. On the quietly propulsive “Second Sleep,” vocalists Neko Case and Kathryn Calder coo like fellow Canadian Jane Siberry while synths burble like a musical stream of consciousness, but even in the more sedate moments (“This Is The World Of The Theatre,” “We’ve Been Here Before”), there’s an underlying insistence that ties the 11-track set together in a typically neat package that sits comfortably and appropriately in one of rock’s greatest band catalogs.

—Brian Baker

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