If you are the type that reads, let alone believes, publicist-provided press for upcoming albums—and, yes, that basically boils down to superfans, media types, and superfans in the media—you’ll be ready to herald the New Pornographers’ latest album, Brill Bruisers, “a celebration record.” It’s a neat idea, but that’s mostly hype. It’s honest hype, sure, but still hype.
“It was something I was quoted as saying, which wasn’t really accurate,” says A.C Newman, de facto leader of the Canadian indie supergroup, over the phone from his Brooklyn home.
But you can’t blame his publicist for stretching things (it’s what they do!), because sexy rock n’ roll backstory—the kind that can be sold to journalists—has never been the Pornos’ forte. They’re too Canadian for that kind of thing.
“We don’t have any Bob Dylan/Jack White/Bon Iver type myth about us,” admits Newman. “We’re just a bunch of people. All we can do is point at our record and say, ‘Isn’t it good?’”
And it is. Boasting 13 nuggets of whimsical, unadulterated sugar-rock, Brill Bruisers sees the Pornographers at their most carefree and, well, celebratory. From dizzying psych-pop bursts (title track) to hair-raising New Wave trips (“Champions of Red Wine”), the record continues the group’s 15-year run as indie’s most unimpeachable collective. Take that Broken Social Scene.
Considering the fruitful solo careers of the individual Pornographers (see: Neko Case, Dan Bejar), it’s a wonder they haven’t crashed and burned. After all, burning bright before crashing and burning is basically what supergroups are supposed to do.
“It’s shocking we’re still around,” says Newman. “I can’t believe we’ve outlived all these other indie rock bands. When I realize Mass Romantic came out 14 years ago, I think, “Holy shit!”
Though, maybe that’s because the Pornographers—despite enjoying critical success and having a loyal fanbase on both sides of the border—have never been a freak, chart-busting success.
“I call us the rock n’ roll middle class,” says Newman. “The musicians that nobody really thinks about. Everybody knows about rock stars and starving musicians, but nobody really knows about us. We’re just here paying our mortgages. Paying the bills.”
It’s been the secret to their longevity. Whereas famed rock stars often soar high and fall fast, the Pornos manage to avoid such Icarus-esque collapse.
“We didn’t explode to the point that we represented a particular point in time, like The Strokes represented 2001,” says Newman. “But we’re not locked into playing a character from a particular time and place. It means we can just steadily go on.”
That in itself is a cause for celebration—a word Newman eventually admits does describe the record. Kind of.
“It’s not celebratory like “Walking on Sunshine.” It’s celebratory in terms of ‘I’m still here, and that’s pretty good.’”
Canadian rock gods, ladies and gentlemen: epic music, humble as hell.