The New Pornographers are coming up on 20 years with no discernible diminishment of their power to amuse and enchant. Ringleader Carl Newman envisioned the latest New Pornographer’s album, Whiteout Conditions, as a bubblegum krautrock record that would move at 160 BPM. He told bandmate Dan Bejar about the project, but Bejar had to bow out in order to focus on a ‘quieter’ and ‘weirder’ Destroyer album that had already been in the works. The boys aren’t broken up; the logistics just didn’t line up for this one. Even without Bejar, the album delivers The New Pornographer’s unmistakable prismatic power-pop sound. Picking up where 2014’s synth-driven Brill Bruisers left off, Whiteout Conditions brings to life Newman’s vision of saccharine krautrock with the kind of preternaturally catchy tunes for which Newman has long been lauded.
The Newman-esque disparity between the dark, introspective lyrics and cheery, foot-tapping music is as present in Whiteout Conditions as it has been for all The New Pornographer’s albums, dating back to the 2001 Mass Romantic, with songs like “My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” which addresses the vice-grip of addiction over a dancey rock tune. Whiteout Conditions was conceived in the midst of what history will remember as the annus horribilis 2016 and the lyrics reflect this year’s all-too-common struggle to wrangle our fractured postmodern consciousness back from the wrong side of the the alarm/panic divide. The title track describes the suffocating conditions that trigger the angst that necessitates that he make music. Newman sings that he’s, “Suffering whiteout conditions,” and he advises, “…forget the mission, just get out somehow,” as astral synths shimmer, vocal harmonies express human connection, and the drum beat keeps your head bouncing. Whiteout Conditions’ most addictive confection is “Juke,” which begins with a seductive major chord arpeggio that sounds like popping bubble gum if you squint your ears.
Whiteout Conditions is the next logical step forward from Brill Bruisers, with an emphasis on whooshing synth and luminescent guitar parts paired with the controlled mania of Newman’s vocal delivery. Even though Newman hits all his marks, The New Pornographers’ sound is more nuanced and textured with Dan Bejar, whose absence from the album is noticeable. It will be interesting to hear the music The New Pornographer’s make when Newman and Bejar reunite after the forthcoming weirder, quieter Destroyer album. In the end, Whiteout Conditions may not be a revolutionary album, but with their unmistakable, infectious sound and Newman’s penchant for deathless hooks, The New Pornographers didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. — DILLON ALEXANDER