Canadian indie-rock collective The New Pornographers recently had one of their songs – Letter From An Occupant – voted at 47 in a list of CBC’s best Canadian songs of all time (topped by Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now), and had Sara Quinn of Tegan And Sara fame declare that the pop anthem changed her life.
With Brill Bruisers being the band’s sixth studio album 14 years later and some 17 years since their formation, it’s unlikely that such a revelatory life changing song will be found in this collection, but what you do get is a damn good set of tracks ready to entertain, being altogether “shinier and faster” according to main singer/songwriter AC Newman.
The frontman has also declared the album as “a celebration record…where nothing in my life is dragging me down”. A good place to be in, then, particularly when the eight current members of the collective are scattered all over North America, causing logistical issues that saw bassist John Collins and Newman work on most songs alone at Newman’s home studio in Woodstock, New York as well as JC/DC Studios in Vancouver.
In the mid-1960s, Manhattan’s The Brill Building was home to numerous legendary songwriters churning out songs and Newman purposely hints at the well known movement throughout. Title track and opener Brill Bruisers is a carefully crafted pop gem built on a lambtastic chorus of “baa baa” vocals, triple drum beat that loosely resembles Queen’s We Will Rock You; it also gives a first glimpse of the vintage keyboards and arpeggiators found all through the album.
Many tracks have been inspired by Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Xanadu particularly), and a tale of reunited lovers – Champions Of Red Wine – fits the description well amongst acoustic strummings and more arpeggiated keyboards. Vocal duties are shared on Brill Bruisers and this time Neko Case gives a wonderful, icy rendition of a song originally voiced by Newman – world class verses are not quite matched by its chorus but it’s a delight all the same. Fantasy Fools continues the pop-based catchiness, the harmonious male/female vocal combination occasionally recalling compatriots Arcade Fire whilst single War On The East Coast is pop brilliance. Again, smatterings of vintage sounding arpeggiated keyboards adorn proceedings before a killer ‘80s pop chorus ticks all remaining boxes.
Backstairs opens to Daft Punk like vocoder before the introduction of buzzing bass, cymbal smashing drums and synths to form another dual vocal belter, bubbling synths this time sounding more spaced out than your local junkie. Marching Orders utilises those wonderful arpeggiators again and it’s becoming clear that the constantly changing vocal direction (this time female again) is creating an album full of enjoyable diversity, vocals so often being the most distinguishable and unchanging ingredient that shapes a band. Post-punk guitars back the excellent Born With A Sound as the gorgeously warbling vocals of Amber Webber from brilliant Canadian rockers’ Black Mountain complement Newman perfectly alongside another uptempo slice of pop perfection.
There’s an audible Pixies feel to the guitars within Wide Eyes, whilst Dancehall Domine represents more bubblegum-pop tinged rock backed by a Sigue Sigue Sputnik like guitaring swirl and beat. Spidyr and Hi Rise are quirkier efforts that detour from the pop vibe somewhat but closer You Tell Me Where returns to the favoured format, this time with thumping drums that recall Primal Scream’s Rocks propel the track through racing electric guitar chords and more gorgeous male/female vocal harmonics and bubbling arpeggiators.
Some sublime interactive graphics are currently embellishing the band’s website – well worth a look, especially with a touch screen device – and a limited edition neon glass vinyl version of the album ‘with surprise colours’ is available to those quick off the mark. With more releases throwing their weight behind the vinyl resurgence now’s clearly the time to rediscover records – so why not indulge yourself with Brill Bruisers? Although unlikely to have any individual impact on CBC’s all-time song chart, it’s yet another consistently good all-round album out of Canada.