The New Pornographers

Electric Version

(Mint; 2003)

By Scott Reid | 13 August 2003

Chances are, if you're reading this review it's because you're already a fan of the band and for some reason curious as to what other people think of them, which probably also means you're well aware of their fantastic 2001 debut Mass Romantic and the oft documented "means-little-to-anyone-except-Canadian-indie-rock-fans" history behind the "supergroup." Pretension and naivety about this site aside, this review will most likely not introduce anyone to this band or this wonderful new chapter in their increasingly important development as one of the best indie-pop bands making music today.

You probably already know what this review is going to say: Electric Version is a rare gem, a perfect summer record that won't start collecting dust come autumn. It's a incredibly accessible and fun pop record with considerable depth and variety (mostly thanks to the songwriting talents of both Carl Newman, of Zumpano "fame" and Destroyer mastermind Dan Bejar). Fused with more hooks in single songs than many entire albums, the album constantly hits at least several times with each song.

But maybe it's possible you're reading this without having heard anything by the band and know little about them. After all, if there's anything I am more often than right, it's wrong. "So," you might be asking, "what's up with all of that praise and bad sentence structure?"

Well, it'd be much easier to assume everyone has heard Mass Romantic and say only that it tops their debut in almost every way; the songwriting is more focused, the hooks are catchier and Neko's voice is more tastefully mixed (as much as I love "Mass Romantic," her voice is almost too out of place to enjoy; especially if you've heard and love her solo material, which offers her the perfect atmosphere for her heart-stopping vocal range). For those that have heard Mass Romantic, I could probably just say that nearly every song has as many good hooks as "Letter From an Occupant." Well, maybe not. "July Jones," "Ballad of a Comeback Kid," "The Laws Have Changed," "All For Swinging You Around," "The End of Medicine" and "Testament to Youth in Verse," at least. That's, like, twenty great hooks right there and that ain't half bad.

But how to describe/explain this album to someone who hasn't heard anything from the band or Newman's last outfit Zumpano (which is already fairly unlikely, even though their two Subpop releases --1995's Look at What the Rookie Did and 1996's swan song Goin' Through Changes --are both excellent)? Hell, even if Bejar wasn't still involved, it'd be much easier to haphazardly label Electric Version as being well-thought out "summery" (everything becomes easier when you start making up words) pop; though I don't think anyone would describe Newman's songwriting as "straightforward," Bejar's contributions to the record ("Chump Change," "Testament to Youth in Verse" and the incredible "Ballad of a Comeback Kid"), like most of his work, have a spectacular offbeat quality to them; a feeling that something has gone horribly wrong yet it can't help but feel so right. How's that for a cheesy overused cliché? Is the album any clearer now?

OK, so maybe the bottom line of this entire review is that you have to hear the album to "get" how clever and catchy of a pop album this is without projecting itself as superior or intelligent. There are no bad songs to be found and although you'll have to weather a few sub-par moments to get to the real good stuff at the end, any lulls will be forgotten when the best of this album starts to hit and, like that drunk guy dancing uncontrollably in front of you at concerts, just won't stop. But like I said, if you're reading this, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about and agree or disagree about this review, you're very unlikely to disagree with this: if you like clever pop music with variety and endless amounts of great hooks, buy this album now. Then, when you're looking for more, it probably wouldn't hurt to track down those Zumpano, Neko Case and Destroyer records. It can only help remind you how talented this band is, whether they're all on the same stage or not.