One of our favorite tracks from The New Pornographers’ new album, “”In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”, “The Surprise Knock” features hooks and lyrics that are as sharp and poignant as ever.
We’ll be treating this week much like the last, in which we split up our time between contemporary songs just being released, and old favorites we haven’t gotten to yet. But today, I’m especially excited, because the eighth album by The New Pornographers is finally out! I’ve been waiting for this album for a while, so expect a full album review after we finish up with “The Surprise Knock”.
But before we get to the song itself, let’s first take a brief look at what we know so far about The New Pornographers’ new album, “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”.
In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
“In the Morse Code of Brake Lights” was released last Friday, September 27th by Concord Music Group. It is now the second album in a row to not feature contributions from Dan Bejar, following 2017’s “Whiteout Conditions”. This is, in my opinion, the single most disappointing thing about the album as a whole. I felt like Bejar gave the group a bit more of a bite that I really like.
So far “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights” has received generally favorable reviews. It currently has a meta critic rating of 76, and a user score of 8.2 out of 10.
A review by Exclaim says of the album: “Despite any nitpicky issues one may find with ‘In the Morse Code of Brake Lights’, it’s refreshing to see the New Pornographers, 20 years into their existence, still trying to swing for the fences.” While there’s a bit of a condescending tone to this that I don’t appreciate, it does paint an accurate picture. The New Pornographers are still giving it their all.
The Surprise Knock
“The Surprise Knock” is the second track on “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”. Coming right after the lower energy opening track of “You’ll Need A New Backseat Driver”, it’s the first track that begins to build up the energy for the first half of the album.
Like many of the songs found on “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”, “The Surprise Knock” relies on a generous amount of overlapping synth sounds to create its atmosphere. The result is a spacey, almost arcade-like version of their familiar pop sound. All the elements of a good New Pornographers’ song are there. Melodic choral accompaniment, harmonizing vocals, heavy pop drumbeats, and the intentional use of repetition in the lyrics.
Actually, if there’s one underrated part in “The Surprise Knock”, it is undoubtedly the drums. Because they bang. Joe Seiders really knows how and when to let loose, and in the chorus section of “The Surprise Knock”, he does just that.
The lyrics to “The Surprise Knock” don’t pull any punches when it comes to assessing the emotional energy in these turbulent times. But when they could just churn out an album full of depressing, defeatist songs, or go in the other direction and shoot for ignorance and escapism, they instead go for something in the middle. A kind of realistic optimism.
“Let it play in the background, tune out the sound
Didn’t need a war but we got one now
We’ll ride the chords as they repeat for years
We may be on, be on to something here”
While this stanza seems to be advocating in favor of escapism, the line “Didn’t need a war but we got one now” is repeated in nearly every verse of the song. This signals that awareness of reality is always present.
“Drifting like proper castaways
Didn’t need a war but it’s here I’d say
So smile big until it’s thrown us clear
We might be on, be on to something here”
If anything, the lyrics to “The Surprise Knock” come off as words of encouragement and hope, telling us all to just keep holding on.
During my first listen of “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights”, “The Surprise Knock” was one of the first songs that immediately grabbed me. And unsurprisingly, it’s become one of the songs that I’ve returned to most frequently so far. Part of it reminds me of some of the earlier New Pornographers songs found on albums like “The Electric Version”. For what its worth, I wish that more of the songs on “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights” had the same kind of energy found in “The Surprise Knock”. But at the same time, I suppose I also don’t want a one-note album. So I’ll take what I can get.
I hope you enjoyed listening to “The Surprise Knock”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song for you all.