Reviewed by Brett Thorne.
May 4 is going to be a showdown of indie supergroups: Broken Social Scene release Forgiveness Rock Record and The New Pornographers offer up Together on the same day. Members of both bands have enjoyed solo success, but they continue returning to the girl that brought them to the dance, so to speak. On Together (Matador), Neko Case, A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar and company return to teach Audioslave and Velvet Revolver a thing or two about being a supergroup.
It’s hard not to imagine what could have been when listening to the album’s opening track “Moves.” Not what could have been with the Pornographers, but rather with Cursive, as the track opens with syncopated guitar and cello bursts. It made me yearn for the days of Burst and Bloom and The Ugly Organ when Tim Kasher and company were teamed with indie rock’s reigning string queen, Gretta Cohn. But this is not a Cursive review, no matter how badly I wish I could hear what new tricks the band has up its collective flannel sleeve.
The vocal hook on “Moves” gets an injection of indie cred with guest vocals from Okkervil River’s Will Sheff. There’s a lesson for Scott Weiland and company: No matter how many great members your band has, the occasional cameo is a great tool, one The New Pornographers work to perfection.
The album sees the band getting help from Sheff, the Dap Kings, Zach Condon of Beirut and Annie Clark, known by her stage name, St. Vincent.
“Crash Years” is the first single off the new album and is a bouncy number complete with a post-chorus whistle hook. Songs like “A Bite Out Of My Bed” and “We End Up Together” balance ohhs and ahhs with a string section and horns, without sounding too forced or crowded. The hardest part of playing music is knowing when not to play and the band has clearly learned this lesson as the instruments are always tastefully sprinkled in here and there to add tastes and textures.
There isn’t any one thing that stands out as especially striking about Together except for the exceptional songwriting of Bejar and Newman. “Moves” and “Crash Years” display the duo’s knack for writing epic indie jams that could convince even the most jaded reader of Hipster Runoff that there is more to the genre than American Apparel and an endless landslide of buzz bands.
The extra instrumentation gives the songs a more grandiose feel than previous efforts. This music sounds like it would best be enjoyed in a recital hall rather than a smoky venue (although Stubb’s will have to do when the band stops in Austin on July 23).
Together is far from perfect and is front-loaded a bit, but I’ll put it this way: by the time album-closer “We End Up Together” ended and The New Radicals “You Get What You Give” started playing on my iTunes, I paused one of the catchiest sing-along anthems of the ’90s and started Together over again.
Red River rating: 8 out of 10