Review: “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”


Rating: 8/10

“In the Morse Code of Brake Lights” is another big success by The New Pornographers, despite the absence of long-time collaborator Dan Bejar. The heavy use of synths inside a collection of tracks with catchy hooks and sharp lyrics proves that after 20 years, The New Pornographers are still quite more than capable of delivering another fun and relevant album.

In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

“In the Morse Code of Brake Lights” is The New Pornographers’ eighth studio album. It was released last Friday, September 27th on Concord Music Group.

While their eighth LP was written differently than previous albums by The New Pornographers, its tone combines a back to basics approach, while simultaneously attempting to break new musical ground. If we’re to highlight any one member to take responsibility for this, it is undoubtedly lead singer and songwriter Carl Newman. Newman’s songwriting definitely captures the classic New Pornographers’ tone. But at the same time, the fact that this album only boasts one writer takes away from the diversity of voices and styles found in their previous works.

That isn’t to say, of course, that it’s impossible to hear the same diversity of voices. Neko Case sings lead on several songs, and as always, brings her signature flair to shine on the track. The other members bring out their voices through their instruments. The ones most prominently heard are the synths, which attempt to both tie the album together musically, as well as provide some variety in composition. At times, however, the layered synths can come off as a bit distracting and take away from the vocals. During these times, they create a more dense and chaotic atmosphere, and detract from a song’s accessibility.

Highlight Tracks

During my listening of “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”, here are a few tracks that stood out to me more than the others.

“Falling Down The Stairs Of Your Smile”

It’s no surprise that the lead single for the album is one of the most captivating tracks on the album. Additionally, it’s also The New Pornographers at their most controlled and refined. There’s little overlapping of synths in its steady, driving rhythm.

Its composition is funnily enough similar to the Pixies and Nirvana, in that it fluctuates between softer verses and a louder, higher-energy chorus. Of course, it’s done in a New Pornographers way. Which means plenty of harmonizing vocals, as well as evocative lyrics.

“One Kind Of Solomon”

This one is another classic-sounding New Pornographers track that I could imagine co-existing on albums like “The Electric Version” or “Twin Cinema”. Like a lot of songs on “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”, it features stellar vocals by both Neko Case and Carl Newman.

As far as the instrumentation goes, it’s mixed with distortion, subdued synths, and a particularly enjoyable discordant series of notes that punctuates each verse, either played by a distorted guitar or an obscure synth setting.

“The Surprise Knock”

While there are quite a few songs on this album with driving beats, “The Surprise Knock” is one of the more enjoyable. This one features another classic New Pornographers technique with the vocals-as-instrumental-and-rhythmic device. The combination of it and the driving beat gives this track more energy than some of the others.

We also covered this song as one of songs of the day. You can check out a more in-depth break down of it here.

Final Thoughts

Overall, “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights” is The New Pornographers’ return to form. At the same time, their continual will to experiment with their sound and compositions definitely comes through. While there may be a little too much synth in some places, every song demonstrates the band’s creativity and craftsmanship. Yes, they’re still a supergroup. It seems that no matter who is manning the helm, the level of musicianship remains the same.

The most unfortunate aspect of this record is that it’s easy to tell that every song was written by Carl Newman. If he’s your favorite songwriter from The New Pornographers, then you’re in luck. If not, you might have to wait for their next album for a little more variety. Hopefully, we can see one more that includes contributions from Dan Bejar.

That about does it for our review of The New Pornographers new album, “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”. Be sure to check it out for yourselves. I have a feeling this is another one that’s going to reward multiple listens.


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