Finding fall sunshine with The New Pornographers

Sunday, September 29, 2019 - 4:26pm

NOSELL

Concord Records

The answer is no. This isn’t a porn thing. Granted, it could be said the good vibes and jam-worthy beats of The New Pornographers are their own hearty brand of music “porn.” The band’s new album, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights, is quirky, playful and fun. More than that, the album is a breath of fresh air. Here, The New Pornographers manage to find a way to revitalize old themes, injecting their songs with a refreshing sense of wonder and excitement. 

“You’ll Need A New Backseat Driver” opens the album with a song of roadtrips and journeys –– an ode to the forgotten, scoffed-at backseat driver. Singing “If you’re gonna travel and never arrive there / You’ll need a backseat driver,” the backseat driver, while a nuisance, is an essential part of any adventure. “Falling Down The Stairs Of Your Smile” follows this quirky spirit, joking about how love is messy and unexpected — like falling down the stairs. “Too many soapboxes, not enough violins / Too many shipwrecks, not enough sirens,” this playful spirit extends to embracing the unconventional and original, discarding the boring to take the gamble. 

Autumn, for indie bands, is the golden season for heavy, introspective songs and soul-searching compositions. There often seems to be an implicit agreement that summertime is for “fun” music, leaving fall with all the subdued ballads and slow tunes. The New Pornographers retaliate against this norm. Whether intentional or not, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights holds on tightly to their trademark high-spirited, merry music-making. 

Don’t confuse this light-heartedness with a lack of substance, however. The New Pornographers don’t sacrifice any symbolism and thematic interpretation in order to keep their light edge. “Higher Beams” in particular touches upon the realm of struggle: “Deep in the culture of fear, we all hate living here / But you know when you can’t afford to leave?” Commentary on the current social climate, perhaps, where 16-year-old girls must scold a disunited congress and a modern day “Red Scare” in the chilling form of anti-immigration sentiment became the monsters under the bed. 

“You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going” is the most notable exception — but not the rule — of the album. Singing with a touch of somber lament, “We’re raw footage, still unedited / It’s awkward, rough and repetitive / But it could win awards when and if it’s shown,” love is messy, and difficult, and painful. In this brief, two minute interlude, The New Pornographers embrace loss, honest and open in their performance and writing — but rather than bringing the mood of the album down, the track makes the rest of the album’s boisterous spirit more tangible in comparison.

But music doesn’t have to be sad to be serious. Then again, it might be even more amusing if The New Pornographers were a mopey ballad type of band — their name alone would reach a new level of irony. In the Morse Code of Brake Lights is perfect to combat oncoming winter blues — they bring the sunshine to fall’s crisp, cool weather. For those who like Scandinavian pop and indie bands, like Of Monsters and Men, and off-beat indie bands, like Passion Pit, The New Pornographers are a good addition to any fall playlist.