Brill Bruisers is the New Pornographers’ sixth LP. When a band gets that deep into a career and still puts out albums this good, it becomes difficult not to paint each new album as something extreme: a radical departure, a reinvention of the wheel, their best effort since their debut, and so forth. Brill Bruisers doesn’t call for that sort of hyperbole; it is not the sound of a band reinventing itself. Instead, it’s the sound of a band that established a form five album cycles ago and now has that form completely perfected.
Four years have passed since the release of 2010’s Together. In that time, we have seen excellent solo albums from Neko Case and A. C. Newman, as well Kaputt, the astounding ninth LP from Dan Bejar’s Destoyer. Four years, however, is still the longest New Pornographers fans have ever had to go without a full-blown New Pornographers record. In terms of satisfying that craving, Brill Bruisers delivers pound-for-pound.
On this album, produced by bassist John Collins (also the producer behind Kaputt), the band sounds gleefully comfortable with their own sonic and melodic vocabulary. They blow through expertly-crafted pop song after pop song without batting an eye, even though nearly every song is worth pausing over. Newman’s writing is focused and memorable. The opening title track is recognizably New Pornographers within its first seven seconds, featuring an idiosyncratic vocal hook layered over the controlled chaos of Kurt Dahle’s drums, which on this record sound the biggest they have ever sounded. That tune gives way to Champions Of Red Wine, another Newman composition, but fronted this time by Neko Case. Absent from this song (and much of this record) is the frantic energy of early New Pornographers albums. Instead, Champions Of Red Wine is a mid-tempo rocker with an eerie synth hook and a gorgeous melody, and it breathes beautifully.
Never to be outdone, Bejar’s songs also fit perfectly here. Continuing the trend that began with Myriad Harbor on 2007’s Challengers, Bejar’s contributions to Brill Bruisers are some of his most direct ever, effortlessly poppy in a way that is atypical of his work with Destroyer. The album’s second single, War On The East Coast, applies Bejar’s distinct vocal stylings to one of the album’s most memorable choruses. Later in the album, Born With A Sound pairs Bejar’s voice with Amber Webber’s, the duo singing first in harmony and then later trading verses. Webber’s voice brings out Bejar’s remarkable ear for phrasing and melody, and the song is another of the album’s many gems. It ends abruptly and uncertainly, a tape fade left intentionally unfaded, whereas somebody’s slightly botched harmony and whispered expletive is left in the mix of Bejar’s excellent Spidyr.
Newman has been forthright about his intentions for Brill Bruisers to be a less introspective and more joyous album, and this characterization is true from the ground up. The songs are catchy and celebratory in every way we could hope, and what’s more, this album itself is a cause for celebration.