When the New Pornographers casually formed like Voltron in the late ’90s, its members — Carl Newman of Zumpano, alt.country gem Neko Case, Dan Bejar of Destroyer and four other Vancouver titans — were already headed for great triumphs. But when the band’s debut, Mass Romantic hit in 2000, it was clear that this unity would trump everything. The band hit such a powerful pop stride that it was almost a dare to every other town’s cream of the crop — North America or elsewhere — to gather together and produce something absolutely sublime.
The New Pornographers’ second outing, 2003’s Electric Version, confirmed that the pop-perfect debut was no fluke, and Newman nailed his solo record, The Slow Wonder, last year. The expectation for the group’s third record could only really be that it would maintain the stride. But the slickly produced Twin Cinema tweaks the formula to include subdued moments, climactic codas and fully unified vocals, elevating the band’s ideas to complete cohesion and transcending its previous output.
Rather than hording all his goodies for his follow-up solo record, Newman kicks things off with his obliterating guitar riffs on the album’s title track and with the piano-pop on the sunny lead single, “Use It.” But these blistering moments are to be expected. The album’s most notable digression is the pointed introspection all over it. Case’s contributions have been subdued here; her faultless vocals are the Pornographer’s heart and soul, but she grounds the pop chaos with delivery deeply rooted in unadulterated emotion. Unlike “Letter from an Occupant,” probably her best-known hit from Mass Romantic, Case’s delivery here isn’t intentionally flip or detached. The sheer beauty of her voice is the focus of these ballads, and “These Are the Fables” and “The Bones of An Idol” are two of her career’s strongest tracks.
The striking moments aren’t all harnessed by Case. Throughout Twin Cinema, Newman unearths exquisite new melodies and arrangements, such as the echoing chorus of “Falling Through Your Clothes” or the lead he takes with the pure guitar bliss on “Sing Me Spanish Techno.” Bejar’s songs are at their finest, perhaps less stark or iconoclastic than his Destroyer material, and therefore a perfect fit for a Pornographers record.
But the finest moment may be within “The Bleeding Heart Show,” which creeps in as a leisurely ballad with members trading vocals, then codas with all seven Pornographers oohing in unison. This exemplifies what Twin Cinema accomplishes for the New Pornographers — it’s a tightly constructed unit simply and casually presenting the case that this is the best pop band around.