When this Vancouver sextet released its debut album, Mass Romantic (Mint), at the tail end of 2000 it was widely referred to as a supergroup--something of a stretch given that the members were culled from Canadian indie-rock outfits like Zumpano and Destroyer. (Singer Neko Case is probably the most famous of the lot, and one alt-country chanteuse does not a supergroup make.) But for all the frothy, hook-laden power of Daniel Bejar and Carl Newman's songs, the album did in fact seem like the product of an ad hoc conglomeration of talent. With their superb sophomore effort, Electric Version (Matador), the New Pornographers have definitively become a band rather than a project. Although lacking the kind of brassy gems Case sang on the debut, the new record is stronger and deeper as a whole. While the band continues to scramble bubblegum highs from the last four decades, the references here are less obvious--excepting the witty Adam & the Ants wink in the intro percussion on "The New Face of Zero and One." As with the debut, the production is airless--any gaps between the walloping drums, giddy bass lines, ricocheting guitars, and gleeful vocal harmonies are spackled by Blaine Thurier's keyboards. Most of the songs this time out were written by Carl Newman, who shares Elvis Costello's knack for cramming extra syllables into every line and extra melodic ideas into every song. Case is underused, singing lead only on the soaring "All for Swinging You Around," but she makes her presence felt as a featured backup singer; I like her belting out these ridiculously catchy songs than almost anywhere else. But that's really my only complaint. Sunday, July 6, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Erica Henderson.