Oh sheesh. Once again I'm completely behind-the-times and reviewing an album well over a year after it originally came out. Alas, sometimes it can't be helped, and fortunately I'm discovering it at just the right time. See, The New Pornographers are pop. They're smart, fun pop, but nonetheless they're pop and such are absolutely great to sing along with. Luckily, I discovered them just as the hot season arrived, and I can drive around with my windows down singing along with them to help combat the thumping of booty bass and radio-polished demographic-targeting bubblegum pop coming from the other cars on the roadways.
A quintet of fellows from the upper Northwest, the group also pulls the always-amazing Neko Case in to sing with them on several tracks, adding another nice element to their boys club and rounding out the edges to their sing-along sound a little more. With five members, I guess I should also mention that the album is also very heavily layered. The liner notes say that it was recorded in frenetic bursts over a long period of time, and it sounds like the group just kept finding interesting sounds to pile on top of the already catchy melodies.
The album-titled "Mass Romantic" starts off the disc and the vocals of Case take front-and-center as keyboards, bass, and jangly guitars and ragged drums all lock together in one hooky groove. Those hoping for the torch-song vocals of Case will probably be surprised to hear a more straight-forward approach on her behalf, but by utilizing her great range, she helps create the most dynamic vocal harmonies on the release. On the bopping "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," the group again creates a swaggering wall of sound, throwing a piano into the mix and ripping out yet another simple guitar progression that sticks in your brain (not to mention creating a fun-sounding song about losing it to a vice).
One of the interesting things about the album is that they manage to work bits of different genres into tracks, giving it a lush and varied feel. "Mystery Hours" riffs with weird, almost new wave keyboards and angular guitars before screaming into a loud chorus, while "Execution Day" plays with odd timing and an off-kilter rhythm and more buzzy keyboard sounds. Even with those flourishes and several others, though, this disc is just about as straightforward as they come in terms of song-structure. Despite that, the group proves that craftmanship goes a long distance, and Mass Romantic hits most of the right notes.
Strangely, this is one of those albums that didn't really do a whole lot for me the first time that I put it into the stereo, but with every single subsequent listen I've found something new and at this point every single track has worked its way under my skin (in a non-painful way). It's one of the better, lush pop records I've heard in quite some time, and although it's a bit silly, it's so well-constructed that I can look past some of the shortcomings. Recorded over 2 years ago, it finally came out a year ago, but it's still damn fun. It's perfect for when you're sitting in your car with sweat dripping on your neck because your air conditioner doesn't work and you don't give a crap if someone in the car next to you thinks you look like a goofball while you're singing along with it. Yeah, that.