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The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema

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Artist: The New Pornographers

Album: Twin Cinema

Label: Matador

Review date: Sep. 6, 2005

The New Pornographers' greatest triumph is that they've managed to appeal consistently to this generation of indie-rock listeners despite its kneejerk distrust of most things enthusiastic, poppy, or otherwise fun. It wasn't entirely without merit that Vice Magazine recently characterized them as "blindingly white," but it's to their credit that they can win the allegiance of so many people (most of them presumably pretty white themselves) without making their records any more complex or less ham-fistedly full of good times.

Ringleader A.C. Newman is not an especially subtle songwriter, but he's got a great ear for instant gratification, and a solid support crew in Neko Case and Dan Bejar. Perhaps because their third album, Twin Cinema, is so honest about its elevation of pleasure over profundity, it's also their best yet.

It sounds like the previous New Pornographers releases, Electric Version and Mass Romantic before it, but Newman's solo debut The Slow Wonder is a pretty handy point of reference as well. Slow Wonder lacked the rollicking, unpredictable, and above all communal feel that the NPs have down (then again, so do the Neko Case and Destroyer albums), but it's a faithful blueprint for the sort of songwriting sensibility that shines here. Case's and Bejar's contributions are relatively muted – Twin Cinema benefits more from their respective indie pedigrees than from her eloquent voice or his bug-eyed poetics – but, fair or not, the band sound more pleasingly unified than they ever have. By the same token, the album feels less adventurous, at least in terms of stylistic diversity, but the focus on Newman's exuberantly literate power-pop affords it more impact. "Jackie, Dressed In Cobras," one of the few tracks that bear Bejar's fingerprints conspicuously, is good, but not in the way the rest of the album is good; the way it sticks out – suggesting too much meaning for a simple pop song, etc. – highlights the cohesion everywhere else.

Like the other NPs records, Cinema can be a chore to listen to at times, but it happens less often than its predecessors, and on the immediate level – because let's not forget what kind of band we're talking about – it simply has a high ratio of really good songs to cloying songs. "Use It" is the instant classic, but "Sing Me Spanish Techno" and "The Jessica Numbers" aren't far behind; "The Bleeding Heart Show" and closer "Stacked Crooked" make up in cheesy charm what they lack in modern respectability – testaments to Newman's knack for winning enthusiasm. So winning, frankly, that even the relatively annoying songs, like the title track and "Falling Through Your Clothes," are liable to take root and rattle around for a while, and it's a bit hard to mind.

Kudos, then, to the New Pornographers – despite ugly artwork and a title somewhat suspiciously close to an anagram of "A.C. Newman," Twin Cinema overrides the most tempting of jaded aesthetic prejudices. For a guilty pleasure, it doesn't even feel very guilty.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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