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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Album Review: ‘Brill Bruisers’

LASTGANGENTERTAINMENT The New Pornographers have released their first album in four years, "Brill Brusiers."
The New Pornographers have released their first album in four years, “Brill Brusiers.”


Indie rock band The New Pornographers is back on the music scene four years after releasing “Together” in 2010. Their latest album, “Brill Bruisers,” provides listeners with the band’s unique sound that is not comparable to many others; the combination of different instruments, electronic sounds and vocal styles allows them to stand out from the crowd. However, this idiosyncrasy comes at a risk, and this new album shows how such innovation does not necessarily lead to a successful product.

In an exclusive phone interview with The Hoya, lead singer Kathryn Calder discussed the band’s sound, evolution of their style and future plans. Calder describes the band’s sound as “loud and fun, boisterous rock music with lots of musical harmonies,” and her description appears to be accurate after just one listen to “Brill Bruisers.” The band strives to incorporate complex instrumentals with the distinct voices of its lead singers, and this manifests in several different ways, with some a bit weaker than others.

The album opens with the titular “Brill Bruisers,” a rather weak opening. The song has a forgettable beat and confusing lyrics, providing nothing noteworthy to give the album some needed momentum. The song is essentially a fusion of ’80s rock roots with a modern-day alternative song, but as for kicking off a 13-track album, it could have started with a little bit more of a punch.

In the second track, “Champions of Red Wine,” the band experiments with high-pitched techno synth beats that seem out of place with the deeper, indie-style voice of the female lead. While the group can be applauded for its experimental nature, this mixture falls short of anything spectacular.

Addressing the four years since their last studio album, Calder describes the process of creating the album as “upbeat and energetic.” During recording, the band recorded their parts separately and relied on energy to sound like a cohesive unit performing at the same time. Perhaps this accounts for the experimental components of the album that work in some instances but fail in others.

“Fantasy Fools” is a well-made track on the album that has a more concrete structure and more meaningful lyrics in comparison to the other 12. Whereas in the rest of the tracks, you are lost in the instrumentals and the half-intelligible, whimsical words of the lead singers, this song features particularly engaging lyrics such as “What the hell, since we travelled so far from the future for you/Let’s begin, let the fantasy fool the experts.”

Calder describes the evolution of the band’s sound from “cramming in as much crazy noise as possible” through very synth-heavy tracks to creating “ballad-y songs with acoustic instruments” in a natural progression. The band aspired to maintain its general sound and not branch out too far in order to please fans. This new album successfully retains the band’s signature style, but it does in fact wade into unknown waters with new and interesting riffs, rhythms and synth sounds.

As for the inspiration behind the album, a variety of strengths among the band members influenced the songwriting. Band member Carl Newman has a “great lyrical sound and style,” as Calder describes, that adds to the creativity of primary songwriter Dan Bejar. Their unique yet symbiotic styles allow them to explore different takes on songs that cater to a wider array of fans.

Tracks such as “Marching Orders” provide an electric energy that hypnotizes listeners through prominent and repeated techno sounds. While those dominating beats may just as easily have hurt the overall sound of the track, in this instance, they work. Ambiguous words haunt the song and give it more emotional depth, such as when the lead sings, “They say we can’t make this stuff up/But what else could we make?”

“Spidyr” emanates a similarly eerie tone with the repetition of the phrase “They want you” followed by unnerving shrieks and the beating of bass drums. The robotic voices found in “Backstairs” continue this ominous and cryptic sound. Although these several tracks seem to be held together by a unified, uncanny sound, they do not fit in well with the rest of the songs on the album and end up disturbing rather than improving the listener’s experience.

In addition to the new studio album, The New Pornographers are on a nationwide tour, with one stop at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Future plans for the band include finishing up this round of touring, splintering off to launch solo albums and increased collaboration on future music.

The New Pornographers leave a weak impression with their sixth studio album “Brill Bruisers,” providing unimpressive lyrics, disjointed synth sounds and an overall forgettable sound. While much of the energy of the techno tracks resonates with listeners and provides enough entertainment for at least one try, the album as a whole appears average and unremarkable.

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