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Review: The New Pornographers, 'Whiteout Conditions'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

The New Pornographers: <em>Whiteout Conditions</em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
The New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions

It's hard to imagine a band that abhors a long, throat-clearing windup more than The New Pornographers. Listen to any of the group's seven albums, and each bursts out from the jump with a blast of pure, blissfully irresistible power pop. Take the title track from 2015's Brill Bruisers, which opens the record by racing from zero to a full-blast sing-along hook in a literal fraction of a second. Why wait?

Whiteout Conditions doesn't deviate from that precedent. Opening with a string of quotable ringers — "Play Money," followed by the title track, "High Ticket Attractions" and "This Is The World Of The Theater" — it nicely captures The New Pornographers' gift for stocking each song with three or four hooks where most bands might settle for one, maybe two. All those hooks interlock playfully throughout the lighthearted, Neko Case-led "Play Money," which then showboats by introducing yet another as it winds to a close.

Song structures aside, Whiteout Conditions doesn't bother duplicating what's come before it: Its tracks at times evoke surprising depths of darkness, synths pop up more prominently than usual and, most notably, Destroyer's Dan Bejar is absent from the lineup. (For what it's worth, bandleader A.C. Newman chalks up the absence to a case of schedules misaligning.) Whiteout Conditions also takes a bit of a turn after that aforementioned opening run of songs, as brash sing-along choruses are swept aside in favor of songs that feel engineered to sneak up on listeners rather than conquer hearts at first blush.

The New Pornographers' first album, Mass Romantic, came out all the way back in 2000 — and Newman was making nifty power-pop records with Zumpano for years prior to that — so the band would be forgiven for receding into legacy-act status at some point. Instead, its catalog just gets more formidable: now seven albums strong, with as little patience for filler as ever.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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