National Album Reviews: The New Pornographers, Holy Fuck, Male Bonding, Indian Jewelry

Categories: CD Review
The New Pornographers
Together (Matador)​

It is with a grin and a nodding of heads that the New Pornographers introduce their new album, Together. Unlike their previous effort, Challengers, this album comes in like a lion, eschewing precious and academic pop tunes in favor of a more strident, yet no less intricate and intelligent, brand of power pop. It suits the band like a particularly fine pair of gloves. 

"Moves" opens the door with insistent guitars, a driving beat, and, just to make sure you know the Pornos haven't lost their sense of levity, a cutely plinking piano line that underscores the propulsion of the proceedings. Once that door is open, the Pornos aren't content to just let the breeze blow through, balancing a mix of intricate and sweet ornament ("We End Up Together") with a much-needed insistence and anima ("Up In the Dark"). 

The best moments are when the band brings all this to bear in a single tune, which happens repeatedly on this album, but perhaps to best effect on the fuzzed-out and lounged-up "Daughters of Sorrow." Throughout, Neko Case's earthy voice plays foil to swooning cellos, while guitars built to rock rub up against the moors and moods of the best pop songwriting on the planet. Utterly charming.

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Holy Fuck
Latin (XL Recording)

Holy Fuck's debut album, Latin, starts in appropriately liturgical tones, with organic swells of sound evoking the chambered, sepulchral drone of the Gregorian. Of course, the only altar at which Holy Fuck worships is the altar of moving your ass, and the intimate and haunting spirit of "One" soon gives way to the sexed-up, white-funk-meets-techno of "Red Lights." The latter track sounds like what you might get if you stripped down the mid-'90s New Power Generation, and hooked them up with a couple of kids with glowstick tongue studs, mainlining MDMA. 

The rest of the album follows suit, with varying degrees of EBM and minimalist funk vying for airplay against video game soundtrack could-have-beens (e.g. the All Your Base Are Belong to Us rip of "Stay Lit"). This is better heard in a dark, sweaty, overcrowded room with plenty of strobes than in the solitude of one's bedroom.

Male Bonding
Nothing Hurts (Sub Pop)

Male Bonding is like burnt sugar: jagged, crunchy around the edges, sweet and acrid in equal measure. On its debut full-length, Nothing Hurts, this British three-piece goes full steam ahead, barreling out of the gates with the galloping guitars and infectious melody of "Years Not Long," which feels a bit like early REM jangle-pop routed through really crappy speakers. 

Next up is the vaguely surf-ish "All Things This Way," whose "ooh ooh ooh" backing vocals make plain that these guys are in full command of the pop half of their split persona. However mid-album, the band strips away a few layers of pop, revealing a battery-acid take on college rock of the early '90s, courtesy of "TUFF."  

The album closes out with the acoustic and genteel "Worse To Come," with Vivian Girls helping out with vocal duties, lovely proof that the boys can do it either way. Nothing here clocks in above three minutes, and that's probably a good thing. These songs are like ear candy. More than a little bite would get old pretty quickly, but damn, is it enjoyable while you're sucking on it for those few brief moments, cracked teeth be damned.

Indian Jewelry
Totaled (WE ARE FREE)

It's kind of hard to like Indian Jewelry, and yet it's also almost impossible not to. Few bands have such an uncanny ability to blend the beautiful and the absurd, the jarring and the enveloping. Indian Jewelry plies these waters with an even choppier wake than ever on Totaled.  

This, more than any other album by the band, sounds like an artificial creation. Jagged samples butt up against stuttering, almost unbelievably cheesy synth lines, and warped and robotic vocals flit under Eno-esque, sawing and yawing, unidentifiable sounds. 

Actually, the oddest thing about this album is that, while it sounds utterly fabricated, it's with a sense of artificial intelligence. And while it includes some of Indian Jewelry's most jarring soundscapes to date, it never loses its underlying sense of rhythmic and melodic purpose. Like a jigsaw puzzle put together all the wrong way, the album's like an abstract-impressionist masterpiece that can only be appreciated when viewed from 20 yards away.

-- Nicholas L. Hall

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