Review: The New Pornographers’ “Brill Bruisers” (2014)

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The New Pornographers’ recent release “In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights”, owes a lot to their 2014 album, “Brill Bruisers”, which paved the way for the band’s post-2010 sound.

Rating: 8.5/10

“Brill Bruisers” is the New Pornographers’ sixth studio album, written after their 2010 album, “Together”. The album was released on August 26th, 2014, and debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard 200. Front man and co-lead singer A.C. Newman serves as the primary writer for the majority of songs. With three songwriting contributions from Dan Bejar, though, the album brings the diversity of voices that fans have come to expect from the New Pornographers.

Regarding the writing process, A.C. Newman called it “a celebration record… After periods of difficulty, I am at a place where nothing in my life is dragging me down and the music reflects that.”

Brill Bruisers

With “Brill Bruisers”, the New Pornographers place more of an emphasis on electronic and synth sounds in their songs than we’ve seen in previous albums. Additionally, the energy level of the album as a whole is significantly higher than most of their others. Both of these qualities support Newman’s assertion that “Brill Bruisers” is a celebration record.

With a title that pays homage to New York’s Brill Building, “Brill Bruisers” also celebrates the compositional craft that made it a haven for tune-driven ballads. But with the amount of energy they put into some of the tracks, “Brill Bruisers” at points brushes past power pop and nudges up against punk. There are as many heavy, distorted guitar propulsions as there are glossy, warbling synth modulations.

The New Pornographers are known for not necessarily sticking to a single style from album to album. But as far as all of their albums go, “Brill Bruisers” is by far the most cohesive in terms of style and tone. The use of driving guitars, vocoder, and arpeggiator are woven throughout the album, weaving connecting, sonic threads.

More than anything, however, what makes “Brill Bruisers” so good is how seamlessly all of the stylistically distinct voices mesh together. The country-folk belting of Neko Case, strained deadpan of mad poet Dan Bejar, soft crooning of Kathryn Calder, and poppy baseline of A.C. Newman come together more effortlessly than they have in any other album. If we were ranking albums in their discography and had to pick a peak, “Brill Bruisers” is it.

Highlight Tracks

“Champions of Red Wine”

Neko Case’s voice is so powerful on this song without ever once sounding strained or forced. Of course, it’s what to be expected from a professional. But paired with a starry, echoing synth and a strong beat, it’s one of the most captivating songs on the album.

“War on the East Coast”

One of Dan Bejar’s contributions to the album, as well as the second single released, “War on the East Coast” is possibly the most upbeat and punky song you’ll find in “Brill Bruisers”. Bejar’s strange, Lennon-esque lyrics work are juxtaposed well with the often abrasive and confusing sounds glimpsed behind the constantly pumping guitars.

“Dancehall Domine”

Another one of the singles and a tongue-in-cheek tribute to other indie bands writing songs about dancing. Along with that, it’s one of the more powerful and driving, while at the same time, lazy-beat rock tune. This one gets props for never letting up on the forward momentum, and is also impossible not to rock a hip to (or at the very least, nod a head).

Final Thoughts

“Brill Bruisers” is the New Pornographers at the top of their game. In my personal opinion, it’s still the last album they’ve made that really came together as a whole. “Whiteout Conditions” had its moments and its singles, but overall, left something wanting. In a similar way, “”In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights”, with all of its songs written by Newman, just doesn’t sound the same as what I think a “New Pornographers album” should sound like.

I’m not saying that “Brill Bruisers” is the New Pornographers’ best album at all. That’s another conversation, for a different day. What I am saying is, that it was the last album they’ve made which can stand up next to “Challengers”, “Twin Cinema”, and “The Electric Version”. As such, it might be the best introductory album for anyone who hasn’t listened to the New Pornographers before.

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