Delirious pop nonsense: The New Pornographers' Brill Bruisers
Sometimes the best or most interesting releases of the year fly under the radar. In The Catch Up, we shine a light on the films and albums we missed at first glance.
The New Pornographers are one of those bands that I’ve always felt vaguely guilty for not liking. The problem wasn’t that I had some deep-seated hatred for the group that I was unable to express, but rather that the group’s impressive reputation and pedigree never translated into great music for me. Sure, Twin Cinema is a catchy album, but the remainder of the discography has always struck me as wasted potential; just-okay records produced by a group of musicians who’re much more than just-okay.
But with Brill Bruisers, I’ve seen the light. I love it right from the title – it references the Brill Building and its classic sound, but plastered in hypercolour on the record’s cover it reminds me of Sleigh Bells (“Rill Rill”, perhaps?), and the record sounds just like the core of that duo’s music – restless, maximalist energy – has been transplanted into The New Pornographers. And that energy elevates Brill Bruisers to my favourite record of 2014 thus far.
The super-syrup-soaked pop leanings of the album are evident right from its opening title track, waves of warm guitars and drum propelling an exultant chorus of delirious pop nonsense. Before a single intelligible word is sung, the record creates a welcoming atmosphere that’s hard to deny. Sure, it might not be especially cerebral or innovative (“Oh I don’t care / I don’t care” as Dan Bejar crows in the chorus of “War on the East Coast”, a song whose exaggerated frivolity encapsulates Brill Bruisers’ infectious insouciance). But it triggers the pleasure centre of the brain; what else is there to ask from pop music?
The whole album reminds me of the hazy, no-doubt idealised memories I have of kindergarten: the simple joys of play, the inclusivity, the indefinable sense of community, the wordless happiness. It’s invested with the collaborative freedom of childhood (okay, I’m definitely glossing over childhood now, but let’s go with it). More than half the songs on the record use vocals as percussion – the desirous gasps of album highlight, “Champions of Red Wine”, the alacritous ba-ba-ba’s opening “Dancehall Domine” that sound like they’ve been ripped right from “Greg! The Stop Sign”, the vocoder-voice-as-enthusiastic-keyboard-jabbing in “Backstairs” – and for me that gels with this evocation of infantile elation, the way children will sing along to the lyrics or the guitars or the keyboards.
Much a gang of infants after too much sugar, Brill Bruisers doesn’t relent. Any song that seems like it might be a downer (or, more charitably, a respite in a sea of red cordial) will ramp up to something celebratory and excitable before it concludes. It’s just a whole lot of fun from start to finish. Brill Bruisers is the sort of record that can improve the darkest of moods with its insistent ecstasy; its blissful swells washing over and – for a moment, at least – concealing and soothing. “Let’s begin,” as they sing, “let the fantasy fool the experts.”