Live Music + Gig Reviews

The New Pornographers @ Islington Academy, London

18 June 2007

There is some kind of conspiracy going on. Or at least there’s something in the water. Wave your indie divining rod around for a bit and undoubtedly it’ll point due west, dangling enticingly over the east and west coast of one particular nation.

Canada. Land of lumberjacks, maple leafs, more free space than most city dwellers can comprehend, and now the breeding ground for a hot bed of dazzlingly original and diverse music. From coast to coast, there is a sense that, if you like your music guitar based, artful and wistful, literate and upbeat, you’ll find something new here. If you prefer collaborations, singer-songwriters or electronic, then one of the many rotating line-ups and projects on labels like Arts & Crafts or Last Gang Records should keep you satisfied.

So where do The New Pornographers fit in? A little awkwardly, if truth be told. They’re part pop hook laden singsong jamboree act, part clever bookish types and part innovative anthems. Kind of like The Shins playing at a frat party covering The Arcade Fire. There is always room for a new musical polymath, but tonight is a demonstration of how things look when you ply this kind of trade and it doesn’t fit together seamlessly and constantly. For every snapshot of euphoric pop wonderment there is a drab college rock gone quirky by numbers filler to balance things out. And as immensely likeable as The New Pornographers are and equally as fun, they struggle to sustain the latent talent that lies beneath.

There are points during tonight set, mainly features of their 2005 album Twin Cinema, where everything falls gloriously into place. The Jessica Numbers is artfully crafted from neatly cut verse into rousing pop chorus and ending in a triumphant sing-along. Likewise, you can’t help but feel a tingle down the spine during Jackie’s Dressed In Cobras all foot-stomping drumming and Motown influenced crescendo. These glimmers of potential Midas touch moments, where the energy and passion of a song is almost visceral (something their compatriots Arcade Fire have all but mastered) are the highpoints. The dips arrive, when they try to be less clever, more good time, good vibe dorm room, after game rock, unfortunately, more generic and less interesting.

Testament To Youth And Verse sounds a bit like Weezer, but less angst, more syrup. While Slow Decent Into Alcoholism is fun, but almost irritatingly dumb after the complexity of some of their better song writing. Both tracks are examples of their earlier work, a more ’60s and ’70s induced lot, which own more to T Rex or David Bowie than their current peers. It’s good time music, but you can’t help but feel that they are selling themselves short, like peeling fruit but leaving the middle.

There is a huge amount to love about Canadian music right now, and plenty of reasons to love The New Pornographers. But, they’re yet to hit that pivotal moment when they can consistently blow away an audience like some of their peers. But, judging from the veritable glut of talent back home, and the spark that is clearly lit already they just might be worth keeping an eye on anyway.

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