TL;DR Haiku Review:
“Why did Bejar go, something big is missing here, still better than most”
There is a lot of chatter about the darker, and more overtly political, themes that are explored in “Whiteout Conditions.” To me, the lyrical content of any given New Pornographers song has always been secondary to the high-level power-pop they have produced since their debut, and arguably still their best album, “Mass Romantic” released way back around the turn of the century.
For the un-initiated, the NP is a collective of talented individual musicians that works because the band allows A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar, and Neko Case to shine individually through each album. Anyone who listens to an NP album will know which artist is being featured, but to the band’s credit, it usually feels connected enough to work as a singular band, and not a traveling talent show.
I saw them twice in the last two years, once on the “Brill Bruisers” tour at the great Fox Theater in Oakland, and once here in Sacramento at the Ace of Spades in early 2017. NOTE: The NP are playing the Fox again tomorrow April 13, 2017.
In 2014, I was lucky enough to catch the full line-up (minus Ms. Case), and the show was incredible. Not so much in 2017 without all of the regulars (and Dan Bejar). The music still sounded good enough, but there is just something missing when the NP becomes the A.C. Newman All-Stars.
This is not me slamming A.C. by any means. I enjoy his solo work and I think his original band Zumpano was a hugely underrated outfit when they released music in the mid to late 90’s. It is just a part of the deal with a group of people that work so well with and off of each other. Of course, it won’t be the same when vital parts are missing which is how I feel about this new album.
No song on “Whiteout Conditions” will hit you like “War on the East Coast” from Brill Bruisers, “Go Places” from Challengers, “Stacked Crooked” from Twin Cinema or the title track from “Mass Romantic,” which is admittedly a pretty unfair standard to hold them to. Taken as a whole, this album is worth streaming and/or downloading because even at 2/3 strength, the New Pornographers are probably better than most of the indie/power/pop bands out there.