I’m writing this review with one hand. My other hand is extended out my apartment window, with a nagging finger waving displeasedly at A.C. Newman for not putting out a solo album this year. Freakin’ supergroups, commissioning and commandeering untoward fame, as ever.
But then, it’s not always that you can get the pristine pop wonders of “Most of Us Prizefighters,” “Secretarial,” “Elemental” and “Prophets.” The very beauty of these things bespeaks their unparalleled rarity. Brill Bruisers came out in 2014 and I’ll admit I was on board, but boy, did it have a way of testing my threshold for goopy synth — nowhere was the grainy organic purity of “Star Bodies” or “From Blown Speakers.” The instrumental garishness on that album every bit matched its album cover.
So yeah, Whiteout Conditions came out and I took a month to review it, even after it had already been overhyped for two months, and I even made a jab at the Pornos in my (less than glowing) Incubus review from last month, claiming the latter to be a source of relatively minor artistic larceny on the part of the former. Maybe I’m hoping that they’re still the “Champions of Red Wine” and they get better with age.
Ugh, God, what is this sh** right away, “Play Money”? This is like music for little kids. I feel like I’m listening to an Ikonika album. And here’s the tired old ploy of A.C. Newman “enlisting” Neko Case vocals on a song he probably wrote. It was cute on “The Bones of an Idol”… now it’s getting a little old. Now you see why I wanted a Newman solo album so bad.
Here comes the titled track and we get… more goopy synth. This would be cheesy even for a Men at Work album. But then, the totality of indie rock is influenced by Joy Division, for… some odd reason. This song really blows. It’s like some less hearty “Champions of Red Wine,” which was already a horrible song.
Here comes “High Ticket Attractions” and refreshingly there is SOMETHING on this track besides a general collective effort to become Ed Sheeran — actually, charmingly, it’s got the goofy frenetic aspects roughly encapsulating of Twin Cinema’s “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” which to me is sort of a direction the band didn’t go in for a while, veering toward serious matters of the heart (“drug deals of the heart,” to be specific). “High Ticket Attractions” even boasts an unorthodoxy in numerical phrasing in the verse, the type of thing I’m pretty sure is frickin’ illegal nowadays on the radio. But God, here’s another goopy synth solo. They must have like endorsements with Mr. Moog or something. Also, these lyrics are getting really cheesy and reductive: “Just like the Mayans / Dropped the science”. Real cute, band. Makes me long for A.C. Newman’s hallucinating, pill-popping days.
The New Pornographers have never been a particularly un-poppy entity: but as fans know, they usually always at least had a way of conveying a sort of WEIRD emotion, or rendering memorable beat poetry a la “On this day that began as execution day / And true to form became execution day”. The band on Whiteout Conditions sound like a collective fearful of the metaphorical artistic “reaper,” instead of biting that blade head-on, which they used to do in their heydays.