The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.

Since 2000, the New Pornographers have been indie rock’s answer to the Traveling Willburys and have put out a massively popular, underground pop record in Mass Romantic. Well, they’re back and in style with this year’s Electric Version, a pop-rock bombshell bred out of the sounds of the “marketing music” movement yet firmly based in the shoes of the independent musician.

As all good sophomore efforts should, this album fills the gaps where TNP had earlier dropped the ball. Neko Case, country chanteuse in residency, takes on a more secondary role on the new tracks than she did on Mass Romantic. At last they sound like a band instead of just a random pairing of talented individuals. This isn’t surprising considering that over the past two years TNP have been touring, writing and melding together.

The album’s supercharged sound takes full force as Carl Newman’s impeccable songwriting skills are overwhelmingly displayed. “Out From Blown Speakers” and “The End of Medicine” show his uncanny hook development, while the title track shows his ability to fit as many chords as humanly possible into one chorus.

However, the biggest improvement from Mass Romantic to Electric Version is the evolution of Dan Bejar as a songwriter. With some of the most addictive riffs since Cheap Trick, he takes a stronghold over the record and provides some of the strongest tracks. “Chump Change” opens with a guitar segment that demands the credit it deserves, while album stand-out “Testament to Youth in Verse” provides a necessary oasis from the sometimes monotonous songwriting style of Newman.

All in all, Electric Version demonstrates the essential factors that should go into recording a sophomore release: fixing the problems with the first album. And with crowning moments from both Carl Newman and Dan Bejar, as well as another batch of those insatiable hooks, the New Pornographers have found their niche in the pop-music scene – no matter what radio or MTV has to say about it.

Rating: 4 stars.

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