The New Pornographers

Whiteout Conditions

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Calling the New Pornographers' music smart pop almost underestimates the group; there's smart, and then there's these folks, whose cleverness suggests their tunes got their undergrad degree at Yale and did their master's at Harvard. But A.C. Newman and his crew also have a keen understanding of the mind/body conundrum -- they want their music to be as intelligent as they are, but they also want it to feel good. At their best, the New Pornographers have shown they know how to strike an impressive balance between what's smart and what's fun since dropping Mass Romantic in 2000. They've once again hit that mark all but perfectly on 2017's Whiteout Conditions. Full of gleaming surfaces dominated by drums and keyboards, this album suggests a new wave dance disc of the '80s that had the chance to mature and do a lot of reading, and this music is mature while still encouraging the listener to crash the party and dance. Electronic keyboards and percussion dominate the arrangements, but the results sound admirably organic, as if there's a healthy pulse beneath all the electronics, and Newman made clever use of his vocalists, as voices glide over the music that's constructed in part from samples of their own singing. And if there's a healthy portion of cynicism in these songs, that's one of the reasons Newman and his Pornographers sound warm and realistic, without succumbing to a false optimism common to this sort of music. You can dance to the music on Whiteout Conditions; you can also tap your feet, sing along, or just ponder its literacy if you prefer, and it will be rewarding under any circumstance. If North America has a better and more insightful pop group than the New Pornographers, don't tell them, or they'll start on a new reading program to beat the competition. Whiteout Conditions shows they're already brighter and more satisfying than just about any of their peers.

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