The New Pornographers miss the mark on Whiteout Conditions

Whiteout ConditionsThe New Pornographers are arguably indie rock’s most beloved super group, even if they were never really a super group to begin with. Their solo careers really started to take off once the band became huge in the early '00s, following a string of great albums that received popular and critical acclaim. With songwriter A.C. Newman as the band’s driving force, The New Pornographers quickly became Canada’s most treasured power pop act. In 2017, they feel more like a bunch of friends that get together and jam than a full-functioning band. Band members come and go, and on Whiteout Conditions, there’s been a major change in their line-up.

Alright, so bad news first: Dan Bejar (also known as the guy behind Destroyer) is sitting this album out, allegedly because the songs he had been writing were too mellow and slow for Whiteout Conditions’ frantic energy.  Bejar was never the band’s primary songwriter, but his songs often played a nice counterpart to Newman’s, something that this album sorely misses. The good news is that Bejar’s absence means that we get more Neko Case than ever. She is the band's most recognisable singer and, now that Bejar has decided to take a rest from the Pornos, the only active member of the band whose solo career is as good as it ever was. Her voice is still a force of nature, so it’s no coincidence that she takes lead in most of the album’s best songs.

Most of the album highlights have Case all over them – as in the hook-filled “This Is The World of The Theatre”, which is one of the most accomplished hits they’ve ever written. Whiteout Conditions starts just fine – the synth-ridden “Play Money” is one of the best pop songs you’re going to hear this year, and the following three tracks (all of them released as singles) are about as strong. Unfortunately, the large majority of the remaining songs here are just average power pop tunes that Newman could probably write in his sleep. The lovely, understated '80s ballad “We’ve Been Here Before” shakes things up a little, but it’s not enough to turn an otherwise lacklustre second half into a compelling experience.

The album does maintain a lovely electronic aesthetic throughout, which at least makes it an interesting listen. They manage to get the sound right; it’s just that the songs aren’t there this time. Whiteout Conditions mostly feels like adult-oriented rock made specifically for NPR listeners, lacking the drive that propelled previous New Pornographers albums.  On the bright side of things, there are three or four songs here that clearly stand out from the rest, and which should be included in any future greatest hits compilation. But as a whole, Whiteout Conditions just doesn't cut it.

Release: 7th April 2017, Collected Works Records / Concord

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