Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers (Album of the Week)

Brill Bruisers

Artist: New Pornographers

Year: 2014

Details: 13 songs; 44 minutes

Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

I think that Brill Bruisers is one of those albums that should advise the listener to enjoy it in order. The album opens with its title song, and it is joyful. For me, that is my hook. For me, that feels like a voice saying “welcome back! this is a sound you like, right?” Yes, New Pornographers. Your sound is one that I like. You got me! As it turns  out, the hook also got Dan, who had to publish his review right here on Deliberate Obfuscation. Double NP love here!

This band has been putting out albums since 2000 – but not in mass quantities. In fact, this is just their sixth album. In between those albums, members of the band put their attention to the other passions in their lives – solo careers, other collaborations, film making. Of its members, I would count Neko Case as one of my favorite artists of anyone making music today. Her voice and her writing produce wonderful things – including my favorite album of last year – The Worse things Get, the harder I fight, the harder I fight, the more I love you. Good lordy, me, that is a good album.

Because one doesn’t get a huge number of New Pornographers albums, it is a little hard for me to parse out my love for the band from my love of the individual performers. However, I will attempt to do that and see if it makes any sense.

First, for me, is that it sounds like they are having fun. The title of this album is a play on the british slang for brilliant “brill” and the Brill Building in NY. The Brill Building was the hit factory where musician/writers like Carole King and David Geffen churned out memorable radio hooks in the 1960s. The New Pornographers make some brilliant hooks here. The album itself is well produced. When you hear the blended sounds on songs like Brill Bruisers, you can marvel at the depth and lushness. But listen to that same song in a live version, and you continue to hear the fun and joy in the voices. NPR helped stage a performance of the full album on the ground floor of the Brill Building a few weeks ago. They have since posted it on their website. Watching it, it is clear that the location is obviously not completely sound friendly. There are pitchy moments, and balance is spotty. Still, I loved the whole thing. Each member smiling and blasting out the background seemed to be just as satisfying as singing the lead. No gimmicks – no costumes – no drama.

Secondly, there is still great variety here. Variety would be impossible not to have when you have Neko, AC Newman, Dan Bejar, and Katherine Calder sharing lead singing duties. The most evident is when Dan Bejar sings lead. Behar is the distinctive voice of the band Destroyer, and his tracks seem a little outside the mood of the album.  Nonetheless, they still don’t become spotlights for him and his solo style. As the songs build, they bring in the band sounds to spring it into easy play with the rest of the album.

Finally, they aren’t complacent doing the same thing. There is an electronic sound component to the whole album that I liked more than I usually do. The best, I think, is on the song “Backstairs” that begins with auto-tune voice, and proceeds to be an evocative story of the evolution of being a musical celebrity.

This one will hold a place in my best of list for the year, I think.

Next up: Diploid Love by Brodie Dalle



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