by: The New Pornographers

Usually, the whole trick behind pop music is to appear effortless, but the New Pornographers turn that equation on its head, making it a habit of showing their work in every tune. So dense their songs, so labyrinthine their lyrics, they tend to inspire admiration, not slack-jawed wonder, but it’s to the Canadian supergroup’s great credit that the music never feels like an intellectual exercise: the hooks are there, they’re just not immediate. Fortunately, Together -- the group’s fifth album -- does feel immediate, a muscular riposte to 2007’s inward-gazing Challengers; it’s a record that sounds sinewy even when slathered with strings. When the cellos are really sawing away, as they are from the moment the record starts, the scale of the New Pornographers' ambition and melodic dedication often recall an ELO without ornamentation (or Jeff Lynne’s enduring love of Jerry Lee Lewis boogie, for that matter), occasionally fronted by Robyn Hitchcock in the guise of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, whose flights of impenetrable fancy do not seem incongruous because A.C. Newman’s songs are equally elusive. Which is why Neko Case is so crucial to the group’s success: she’s the blood that flows through the band, turning whimsy into something resembling reality without giving the listener pause, which is no small talent. And perhaps that’s why this album is called Together: more than any other of the New Pornographers' albums, this feels like a group effort, each element united to create uniquely cerebral power pop. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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