Album Reviews

The New Pornographers – Continue As A Guest

(Merge) UK release date: 31 March 2023

On another reliable chapter in the Canadians’ storied career, twists, turns and embellishments on their trademark sound ensure they’re still sounding fresh

The New Pornographers - Continue As A Guest At one point in the early to mid-2000s, Canada seemed like the most exciting place to be a musician. Broken Social Scene were emerging, as were names like Feist, Hot Hot Heat, The Dears, Stars and pretty much every member of the Wainwright family.

The New Pornographers were at the forefront of that scene. Formed as a Canadian indie ‘supergroup’ in 1997, they really came to prominence with the excellent Twin Cinema in 2005. Boasting names like Neko Case, Dan Bejar from Destroyer and led by Carl “AC” Newman, the soubriquet ‘supergroup’ was one that was well earned.

Continue As A Guest is the follow up to 2019’s In The Morse Code of Brake Light, and despite it being written during the pandemic, and recorded under lockdown conditions, it sounds like they’ve never been away. Their trademark fizzy power pop still sounds infectious, and the harmonies between Newman and Case (and occasionally Kathryn Calder) are as blissful as ever.

Contiue As A Guest isn’t their most immediate album though – it takes several plays for these song’s delights to fully reveal themself. It’s also the first record that saxophonist Zach Djanikian appears, and it’s fair to say that he makes himself notable. The saxophone is one of those instruments that divides opinion, and if you’re averse to its charms, you may not enjoy this album as much.

Yet there’s still plenty of love on Continue As A Guest. Despite the departure from the band of Dan Bejar, he has a co-writing credit on opener Really Really Light, and it’s almost like New Pornographers covering a Destroyer track, which is as great as it sounds. The always excellent Neko Case adds vocals to the wonderfully titled Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies, and there’s a crunch and a swagger to the infectious Last And Beautiful.

The second half of the album sees some new shades being applied to the New Pornographers sound. Marie And The Undersea is a showcase for Neko Case, her unmistakable vocals sounding stirring and inspirational while Djanikian’s saxophone parps away in the background. Although Angelcover may dip slightly in the formulaic, the lovely Firework In The Falling Snow (co-written by Speedy Ortiz‘s Sadie Dupuis) is a definite highlight.

Closing track Wish Automatic Stuff also adds a new side to the band – a slow-burning introduction, before the band properly kick in, and then, with about a minute to go, there’s a dramatic tempo shift, as Newman and Case sing “meet me in the mirror maze, tell me when you find the floor”. It’s the perfect rejoinder to anyone accusing New Pornographers of resting on their laurels after 25 years in the business.

As indeed is this album – there are enough little twists, turns and embellishments on their trademark sound to ensure they’re still sounding fresh. Continue As A Guest is another reliable chapter in one of Canada’s most consistent bands.

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