The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema (2005)
I can't say I have a favorite New Pornographers album. Pretty much every one of their seven releases to date has at least 2 or 3 songs that, standing alone, make the album essential for any fan of off-kilter power pop. And while I'm particularly partial to 2007's Challengers, one of the Canadian collective's most consistent efforts, it's hard not to give the nod to Twin Cinema, if only for the mere presence of "The Bleeding Heart Show," perhaps one of the most insistent pieces of ear candy of the past 20 years, the sort of song that, if you hear it before going to bed at night, will keep you from falling asleep as you desperately try to get it out of your head.
Carl Newman, who writes and sings most of the band's music, has an uncanny way of taking a traditional pop hook and then twisting it just a little, moving it in an unexpected direction, which keeps the albums unpredictable and fresh. These hooks are then amped up to ten with typically dense, baroque musical accompaniment. Dan Bejar, of indie band Destroyer, adds a slightly more offbeat pop sensibility to the mix on a few songs. And of course the band has a not-so-secret weapon in Neko Case, the Americana (albeit Canadian) chanteuse, wielding her gorgeous pipes (I saw her solo once and, damn, that's a show you need to see) to Newman's frenetic hooks to perfect effect. None of which is to diminish co-vocalist Kathryn Calder, also fantastic.
Plenty of great tunes here beyond "Bleeding Heart"; "Sing Me Spanish Techno" is every bit as catchy and joyous, and the title track is fun as well. There are times on the album, as on all their releases, where I wish Newman would keep it a little less busy rather than introducing that one weird chord change or bridge, but the band's insistence on challenging power pop conventions is what sets them apart.
Here's a live performance of "The Bleeding Heart Show," because I believe you are a good person and should hear it:
And, damn, "Sing Me Spanish Techno" from the same gig:
(As you can tell, they are a surprisingly solid live act, though they don't always have Neko with them when they tour. I saw them once in Vegas and was shocked that they could perfectly recreate these complex studio productions on stage.)
Here's the album on Spotify:
And, as a bonus, here's a (dare I say) perfect little compilation I created (including a couple tracks from Newman's solo albums and original band Zumpano):
Buy it on Amazon.