The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers (photo by Ebru Yildez, PR)
The New Pornographers
In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights
Concord/Collected Works Records
For over two decades, The New Pornographers have combined intelligent songwriting, sweet melodies, deceptively complex arrangements, and a variety of voices (and musician egos). Over the course of seven studio albums, the Canadian-American collective has mastered the art of distinctly rich and ornate pop music.
Those skills are in full bloom on album number eight, In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights, which briskly follows 2017’s Whiteout Conditions. The band continues to grow too: the original lineup of singer and songwriter A.C. Newman, Neko Case, bassist John Collins, and keyboardist Blaine Thurier now includes lead guitarist Todd Fancey, keyboardist and vocalist Kathryn Calder, drummer Joe Seiders and for this album, newcomer Simi Stone on vocalis and violin.
Like a typical large ensemble, not every member contributes equally to every song. In fact, only Newman and Calder appear on all eleven tracks, while Thurier is absent throughout. Seiders plays on all but one tune, while Fancey can only be heard on two selections.
Automobiles play a key role in many of the songs on In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights, starting with the album's title which comes from a lyric in the opening song, “You’ll Need A Backseat Driver."
Driving also is a theme in "Elsewhere" and “The Surprise Knock” and a car’s headlights is used as a metaphor in “Higher Beams." Road rage comes up on “Leather On The Seat” and in “You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going,” Newman sings: “My love, she climbed on the roof of the car/Said “It will be my stage if it’s not gonna start.”
Besides that traffic jam of vehicles, there's an unease that weaves its way throughout the album. For example, break-ins occur in “Colossus Of Rhodes” and assassins lurk in “Need Some Giants.” This undercurrent of tension is augmented by the density of the production. Hyperactive, pounding rhythms, seas of synths, sinister strings and vocals from Newman, Case, Calder and Stone all cradle Newman’s lyrics.
Newman produced In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights and also composed all of the tracks, except for “Need Some Giants,” which he wrote with a New Pornos alumnus, the singer and guitarist Dan Bejar, who now records as Destroyer. (Bejar left the band in 2017 after 20 years.)
Everything about the New Pornographers is big and bold on this new album, and there is much to explore and discover here. But it's impossible to overlook that In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights is a product of an anxious time in the world — and that uncertainty makes escape appealing. No wonder there are so many cars zipping through Newman's lyrics as society collapses around the band — and us.
Listen to FUV Live with The New Pornographers in concert from Rockwood Music Hall tonight at 7 on 90.7, also streaming online. We'll also feature live tracks from their set throught the week.