Those who know me know that I've been on three roughly parallel band crushes for about two months now. One's on a new band, one on a band that's getting kind of famous, but the third, which only gets worse with the passing days, is maybe the worst band crush I've had since 1994 (and never-you-mind who that was).
Nope, I'm dopily obsessed these days with The New Pornographers. They're a massive band from Canada (by massive I mean 7-8 rotating members, and getting bigger all the time). Smart lyrics, fiercely catchy melodies, amazingly complex arrangements. I'm not usually such a keyboard person, but I love the way TNP uses them. The effect of all these instruments, all these voices, is a really lush sound, both solid and soft. Forcing an mp3 upon one of my correspondents, I compared it to listening to a black velvet painting. (Oh, how I wish I could take credit for that metaphor, but no. It goes to someone I once knew, a sculptor, who referred to Chunky Monkey ice cream as tasting like a black velvet painting. So, if you'd like, you can also think of TNP as sounding like Chunky Monkey tastes. It works for me.) Of course, that was a track from their second record, the thicker The Electric Version (2003). The first, Mass Romantic (2000), is more direct--the almost choppy guitars opening "Letter from an Occupant," just to give one example, wouldn't be out of place in pretty much anything I listen to (or, think Panda Paws here). And it took me ages to place the unusual guitar sound on "The Electric Version," but I finally found it: The Undertones' Positive Touch. Heh.
But if I'm honest, what really gets me about TNP are the vocals. Reams have been written, gigabytes have been consumed, trying to describe the voice of Neko Case. I can't do better, so here's a sample:
To listen to Neko Case recorded is an incredible experience, but to actually watch her sing is breathtaking. While the audience (and sometimes the rest of the band) gasps in awe, struggling to draw enough air to yell into a friend's ear "can you believe her voice"?!, Neko simply opens her mouth and lets loose an auditory assault. In a good way. The English language needs a new verb to describe the manner in which Neko produces sound. It is not singing. It is some peculiar form of channeling, in which her vocal chords become conduit for a blend of Linda Ronstadt's, Patsy Cline's and Ozzy Osbourne's voices, driven through a Marshall amp with all the knobs turned to 10.
The pisser here? NOT exagerration. And when she's back-and-forthing with her bandmate and spouse Carl Newman (who had his own breathtaking solo project last year, under the name A.C Newman), the effect is amazing. I'm not even going to gush over the effect of the three- and four-part harmonies that litter the place effortlessly. Damn! Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few bands who combine male and female vocals as effortlessly: think Velocity Girl, not Sonic Youth.
And they're in the studio. Now. (Well, maybe not now: it's 5am on a Sunday morning, Vancouver time.) I'm giddier than I should be. Done in March, out by September, Newman promises.
We learn over at Pitchfork that:
The other good news, in addition to the general lack of waiting, is that Neko Case and Nora O'Connor will both sing on the new record, and that Dan "Destroyer" Bejar is reportedly contributing much more to this record than on 2003's Electric Version. And Newman may be planning a dreadlock holiday of his own: "We're still trying to find a way to insert some dub/white reggae in the mix, just as an intellectual exercise, to see if we can do it without being dropped from the label." He telepathically hastened to add, "I know it sounds awful but it will all work out."
I trust 'em.
For some cool TNP stuff online, check here and here. I like the video particularly, because that's how TNP feels to me. And you can get both TNP & Newman solo mp3s at the mp3 site. Yay!