Song of the Day: “Whiteout Conditions”

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Today we’ll be continuing our look at songs that came out of side projects, collaborations, and other means.

Yesterday, we looked at “Leave It In my Dreams”, by The Voidz, a side project started by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes. Like many side projects, The Voidz push the boundaries of the more mainstream work by artists like The Strokes. And this makes perfect sense. Why else would you start a side project or collaborate if not to make something new?

Our song today, “Whiteout Conditions” is the title track of The New Pornographers’ most recent LP, which was released in 2017. Once again, we’ll first take a look at The New Pornographers as a band. Then we’ll move on to discuss the song itself.

The New Pornographers

There are some out there who would argue that The New Pornographers aren’t a side project, but rather the main project of a group of independent songwriters. And in a way, that’s somewhat accurate, but it isn’t the whole truth. The New Pornographers formed in Vancouver, British Colombia in 1997, and each member of the band was already a prominent musician in the Vancouver scene.

The members of The New Pornographers and their other projects are as followed: Carl Newman (solo A.C. Newman, Superconductor, Zumpano), Neko Case (solo artist, Maow, The Corn Sisters, Cub), John Collins (The Evaporators, Destroyer), Blaine Thurier (independent filmmaker), Todd Fancey (solo artist, Limblifter), Kathryn Calder (solo artist, Immaculate Machine, Frontperson), Joe Seiders (Beat Club), and Dan Bejar (Destroyer, Swan Lake, and Hello, Blue Roses).

The list above is the main reason why so many critics refer to The New Pornographers as a “super-group”. Although the band has denied such accusations.

Additionally, the album “Whiteout Conditions” was the first album by The New Pornographers to not feature both Dan Bejar and former drummer Kurt Dahle. Bejar was reportedly at work on a new Destroyer album, which prevented him from taking part in “Whiteout Conditions”. Although Bejar’s mad poetics made a great addition to The New Pornographers, we’ll all have to wait until their next album to hear him outside of Destroyer.

Whiteout Conditions

“Whiteout Conditions” is the second track of The New Pornographers’ seventh studio album of the same name. Like many of the songs from the album, “Whiteout Conditions” is in The New Pornographers’ usual vein of indie-pop. The biggest notable thematic change is the use of fast, warbling synths and irregular beats. However, the album as a whole does deal with some interesting musical and emotional ideas.

The New Pornographers are a band that likes to take turns when it comes to the role of lead vocalist, with plenty of backup harmonies. In some cases, the harmonies bleed in and blur the boundaries between lead and backup vocals. They do this so much, and so well, that in some songs it sounds like they’re doubling the lead role. But when you have Neko Case in your band, you can’t really push her to the side.

Still, in some songs, like “Whiteout Conditions”, Carl Newman comes in as a familiar voice. He sings the verses of the song, while Neko Case and Kathryn Calder sing the chorus.

Lyrics

The lyrics in “Whiteout Conditions” deal with an emotional struggle that isn’t directly specified, in true form, but rather hinted at and talked around. But plenty of clues are dropped along the way. And when we look at those clues, the meaning reveals itself.

First, let’s look at the opening of the song, where we get the beginning of some context.

“I’m flying and feeling the ceiling
I’m barely dealing and the faces, the faintest of praises
Are too revealing, such a waste of a beautiful day
Someone should say, it’s such a waste of the only impossible, logical way”

So here, we get a sense that the narrator is in a state of distress. He’s feeling like he’s floating in the air, suspended, removed, but still able to see faces and hear praises. Along with that, we get that he considers what he’s doing a waste of a beautiful day, so we can assume he’s inside. To me, all of these clues seem to point to the narrator being absorbed in his phone, so let’s run with that.

Additionally, the last verse mirrors the first, and gives us the answer we surmised.

“Flying and flat on the ceiling
I see myself and the revival, it suddenly hits me
It’s going viral such a waste of a beautiful day
Someone should say”

The keyword here is “viral”. So we know that what’s causing the distressed state is feeling removed from the real world, and plugged into the virtual one. I’d love to finish analyzing the rest of this, because there’s so much more, but we’re out of space. We’ll be back tomorrow.

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