by Victoria King
“Sparkly” is an appropriate word to describe glitter glue, sequins, maybe even slumber parties – but now it is also the word that Carl Newman of the New Pornographers chooses to describe the vibe of Brill Bruisers, the band’s latest release.
“I don’t know any other word for it,” he explains. “It’s a rock and roll album, its got a lot of arpeggiators . . . it sounds like us.”
This is the sixth full-length studio release from the indie rock band. Their last album Together was released in 2010. Since then, several members of the band have released solo albums (as well as releases with other groups) and have toured together and separately. Other projects aside, the New Pornographers latest material marks a new sound. Four years later and many changes in between (including fatherhood for Newman), Brill Bruisers sounds like a celebration. “We wanted the record to be cohesive and we wanted it to really move. There was a conscious effort to not have any ballads in it. There are some songs that are mid-tempo and kind of laid back, but we wanted it to be fairly propulsive.”
The album was recorded partly in Vancouver and the remainder at Newman’s home studio in Woodstock, New York. “I feel like there are a lot of bands that use 80s elements but they do it in a lightweight sort of way. We wanted to take that and still have a very loud rock band behind it . . . We thought if we do that, we inhabit a space that no other band is currently inhabiting.” Carl cites that the band was loosely channeling the late 70s-early 80s sound of Electric Light Orchestra. “We kept saying half-jokingly through the record that we wanted it to sound like Xanadu.”
While the focus and overall sound of the record is so true and devoted to its “sparkliness” throughout, Carl makes clear that the band wasn’t listening ear-pressed to an ELO album, copycatting note for note. Creating the sound of Brill Bruisers was a conscious effort towards making a very specific sounding record. “Occasionally when we were working we’d just go ‘Yes, that’s it’”
In particular, the vivacious jubilation on the album can be attributed to the digital influence on its conception. “There was a sense of not being afraid of using artificial sounds, and embracing some sounds for their artificiality,” Newman told Stylus, going on to reveal that there are a few songs that feature iPad apps – band member John Collins used the sounds from his iPhone for a key section in the song “Fantasy Fool.” The group even sampled a men’s choir and chopped it up to create an effect. Fear not though – while the NP’s are dabbling in the electronic, they’re not going EDM. There are still real drums and lots of other instruments on the release. It becomes clear that the there’s a balance of quality in sound.“Yeah, they don’t sound real but they sound amazing, ” Carl explains by highlighting some string samples incorporated.
Though the New Pornographers have come a long way since their first release Mass Romantic in 2000, their recording style has remained relatively unchanged. Newman invested in a home studio to serve the band’s purposes. “I wanted a space where we could work for a long time and not worry about the amount of money we were spending. It seemed like a good investment.” And he goes on to tell that some members were easier to pin down than others. “Neko, we basically had to chase around. At no point did Neko move to Woodstock. We just went to her,” Carl explains. Neko Case released The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You in September 2013 and has been touring and promoting since the album’s release. Carl explains, “We’re always going to different places, that’s always how it’s been. On our first couple records it felt like we would always be moving to someone’s house or apartment or practice space. Now it’s a similar thing, except maybe we go to more expensive studios.”
“It’s a lots of work, and it’s stressful but when it comes together – there’s a sense of relief that’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s working,’” he explains. While the release does not sound the New Pornographers we’ve become accustomed to, the album is a specific and important point in their discography – it’s a euphoric electronic indie expedition, cruising through new beeps & whirs all the while navigated by the Pornographic players whose voices & instruments you know so well.
The New Pornographers release Brill Bruisers on August 26 off Matador (US) and Last Gang (Can). They’ll leave for tour in late August and have dates posted until mid-November – there’s no Winnipeg date, so you’ll have to plan a roadtrip.
To hear Victoria’s entire interview with Carl Newman, tune into Now Sounds on CKUW 95.9FM on Friday, August 8 between 3:30pm & 5:00pm.