New Pornographers use strings, horns on subtle, slippery fifth record, 'Together'

Rick Moody can (and does) flap his gums all goddamn night about the New Pornographers and their fifth album, “Together” (Matador), but his rambling discourse on the state of the “popular song” reveals more about him than it does the band. Let’s try to rectify that.

First, “Together” is the next step on the band’s move away from what leader A.C. Newman has called the “weird, ugly synthesizer sounds” of the New Pornographers’ first three albums, which were packed with upbeat, hooky songs. Their “organic” (also his word) journey began on 2008’s “Challengers,” a relatively subdued record that kept the hooks while making greater use of acoustic instruments.

“Together” is a somewhat peppier affair, though there’s a subtlety at work in the songs that takes a while to sink in. Strings trot along with the beat on opener “Moves” and blend with piano and layers of guitar on the bobbing “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” (with Kathryn Calder on lead vocals), while horns spill out on “A Bite Out of My Bed.”

Newman seems to have handled the bulk of the writing, though Dan Bejar turns in a couple typically inscrutable songs, including “Silver Jenny Dollar,” with a refrain you may find yourself repeating. Neko Case returns as well, taking lead vocals on “Crash Years,” synthesizer twisting in the background on the chorus until it gives way to that whistling that starts each instrumental break.

Such little touches help make this a pleasant enough collection of songs, but it slides by a little too smoothly. Maybe those earlier synthesizer sounds were ugly, but they stuck out in a way that gave you something to hold on to. “Together” is a little harder to grab hold of.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Jason Creps

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