August 21, 2007 - Matador
After the giddy sugar buzzes of the New Pornographers’ first two albums, the Canadian collective’s 2005 disc Twin Cinema. was a slower-moving, more sedate outing whose gifts emerged only after multiple close listens. Challengers, too, lacks the hyperactive power-pop and dizzying harmonic headrushes that first brought the band indie stardom-save for the hand-clap-laden merry-go-round-whirl “All The Things That Go To Make Heaven And Earth.” Still, what Challengers lacks in immediacy, it makes up for with brain-teasing melodies and majestic orchestration. The Dan Bejar-penned “Entering White Cecilia” resembles the quirk-folk that Robyn Hitchcock has perfected, as it’s full of typically droll vocals and languid observations; the viscous, buzzsaw-riffed highlight “Failsafe” slinks around in the shadows, plagued by cloud cover (and influenced by darker Britpop). If anything, Challengers is A.C. Newman emphasizing that he’s the boss of the New Pornographers; Neko Case’s once-barnstorming vocal turns are largely relegated to the background, and the ornate string and harmonic arrangements cushion his lyrics and earnest enunciation perfectly.