Twin Cinema

The New Pornographers

Matador Records, 2005

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


A.C. (Carl) Newman treats each song like a piece of luggage. And on Twin Cinema, the newest release from The New Pornographers, Newman packs so much stuff into each song that each track threatens to burst out of its confines.

Singers volley off lyrical lines to each other, dramatic music shifts bring beautiful choruses to an abrupt end and lyrics come off more as riddles than straightforward confessionals -- all within a span of three minutes.

If you were too young to 'get' the Pixies during their first go-around in the '80s and early '90s, you would be hard pressed to find a better band that can utilize the power of a great three-minute pop song than The New Pornographers. And to Newman's credit, he does this despite the fact that the majority of the members of this supergroup have successful careers either heading other bands (guitarist Dan Bejar heads the band Destroyer) or as a solo artist (singer Neko Case).

The Pornographers' first two albums, Mass Romantic and Electric Version, were great collections of pop gems that were near-perfect summer soundtrack albums. Unfortunately, each album had two or three songs that were catchy to the point of annoyance. To add to this frustration, both albums seemed like great collections of songs but each failed to sound like a true 'album.'my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That's not the case with Twin Cinema. The album's opening title track features a guitar riff that practically wires itself into the listener's central nervous system that brought to mind Beck's "Devil's Haircut." When Newman shouts in a high-pitched, giddy voice, "Lead the charging of armies into war, yeah!" you get the feeling like Twin Cinema is going to be a more ambitious recording than its predecessors.

One of the pressures of leading off with such a strong track is the listener has a tendency to want to listen to that track again, setting up the next one for disappointment. Not the case for "The Bones Of An Idol." The album eases its way into its first ballad and Case's voice automatically holds your attention. Newman's piano and Bejar's breezy guitar work give Case's vocals plenty of room to skate around the instrumentation.

Perhaps sensing that Case may jump ship after the touring for Twin Cinema ends, Newman brings another singer into the Pornographers fold with Kathryn Calder. While the songs that are fronted by Case have her stamps all over them (the aforementioned "The Bones Of An Idol" and the weary "These Are The Fables"), Calder's voice is strong enough to hold up with Case's on the duet "Three Or Four;" strong enough that most listeners will have trouble distinguishing one vocalist from the other.

If there is an 'annoying pop song' in the bunch, it would go to "Broken Breads." Like on previous New Pornographers releases and on Newman's solo work The Slow Wonder, the lyrics veer into 'too clever for their own good' territory (e.g. "Who was I to come between a whore and her money? Yes there is a war / boys versus girls / clowns versus their curls." Newman's falsetto breakout of a "la la la" chorus doesn't help matters either. Fortunately, the last quarter of Twin Cinema makes "Broken Breads" a mere trip-up and not a momentum killer.

"Stacked Crooked" may not be the finale that "Miss Teen Wordpower" was on Electric Version, but it's an equally compelling closer. Bejar's hammering guitars match perfectly with Kurt Dahle's drumming (perhaps the most underrated member of the Pornographers). Like the rest of Twin Cinema, the lyrics are moodier and headier than their previous albums, but the music makes the lyrics go down easy, even if you don't know the context of the song.

The listener leaves Twin Cinema exhilarated and most likely wanting to hit the 'repeat' button. In the age of the iPod, it's refreshing to see that there still is a place for 'whole' albums like Twin Cinema. Ironically, one of the best 'whole' albums of the year comes from a disjointed band that excels at putting an album's worth of hooks into each single.

Rating: A-

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© 2005 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Matador Records, and is used for informational purposes only.