Union Transfer

1026 SPRING GARDEN STREET, PHILADELPHIA, PA 19123 Ι 215-232-2100

The New Pornographers featuring A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar (Destroyer)

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The New Pornographers featuring A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar (Destroyer)

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

Thu, November 20, 2014

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA

$30.00

Sold Out

This event is all ages

The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers' sixth album, Brill Bruisers, has a name that brings multiple connotations to mind, all of them apt, since band founder A.C. Newman acknowledges liking "titles that, in my mind, could have five different meanings." But you wouldn't steer yourself wrong if you gathered from the name that what you are about to hear will be both brainy and pugilistic. If you could put a face on an album title, this one might be represented by a boxer's mug with a monocle.

A reference to "brilliant bruisers" occurs in what became the title track, "and it was shortening it to 'brill' which made me think of the whole Brill Building connotation," Newman says. "Even though I hesitate to give it any exact meaning, I like the idea that it's bruising songs in the style of the Brill Building," the legendary office tower where the greatest pop songwriters of the 1960s pumped out their classics. "Or, it makes sense as just short for brilliant. The whole idea of being a brilliant bruiser–isn't that what everybody ultimately strives for, or what a person needs to succeed in this world? To be really intelligent and really strong at the same time? It just seemed to match this group of songs somehow."

This is a set of bruisers four years in the making, as several of the collective's more prominent members have been otherwise occupied by their day jobs, or moonlighting. Newman issued a solo album last year, while Dan Bejar found acclaim with another record with his other band, Destroyer; Neko Case was doing her usual under-her-own-name world conquering. Yet the promise of New Pornography continues to bring these disparate talents together just as it has since the first album they made back in 2000, Mass Romantic–a then-lark that now shows up on so many lists of the best albums of the 20th century, it borders on counting as classic rock.

Newman has learned to not resist the terms that writers have always applied to the Pornographers to reflect the unusual nature of the lineup. "The irony is that as the years go on, these things become less true and more true," he laughs. "We weren't a 'supergroup' at the beginning, but now we arguably are. The band means different things for different people. For Dan and Neko, it's a side project. For me, ironically, it's a career, and my solo career is just something I dabble in. But who else has all these people in the band? Look at us. When you consider that Neko's as popular as she's ever been and Dan's coming off Kaputt, the biggest Destroyer record yet, it's like: Yeah, we're a fucking supergroup!"

Mantle accepted.

On Brill Bruisers, bassist/producer John Collins returns to the co-pilot's chair that he inhabited on the Pornographers' first three albums. The band's last couple of recordings, made without Collins as primary producer, had slowed down a bit from their original indie-power-pop ethos, and Newman's latest solo album went for "a Glen Campbell vibe." Having gotten the singer/songwriter stuff somewhat out of his system, Newman decreed early in the going that this Pornographers album needed to be "shinier and faster." To that end, a couple of very specific touchstones were invoked.
"Before we started the record, I was talking to Dan and I remember saying, 'Yeah, I want to go with a slight Sigue Sigue Sputnik vibe.' I think he took me very literally on that," Newman chuckles. "So he sped up all of his songs quite a bit. And I had to speed up my songs as well, because I thought 'My songs can't be slow when his are so fast!' So that Sigue Sigue Sputnik comment really served its purpose."

That covers the "faster" part, but what about the "shinier"? "We were going for 'Xanadu'," Newman says. Just in case there's any doubt, he is not alluding to Citizen Kane but directly referencing, yes, the roller-disco movie to which ELO contributed much of the soundtrack. Brill Bruisers doesn't just draw inspiration from Jeff Lynne's genius in general but from the synth sounds of a very specific two- or three-year period in that group's career. "It's basically Discovery, Xanadu, Electric Dreams ELO pretty much," he allows. "There are a lot of influences that I try and avoid when they come up, but that's not one of them. If something sounds like ELO, I think, yes, let's do this! It feels like everybody's influenced by the same bands nowadays, but if you're going to be influenced by early Depeche Mode, why not just move over and be influenced by early '80s ELO?"

But maybe think Secret Messages meets Surfer Rosa, because there's a deep and propulsive core almost constantly thundering away under those celestial flourishes. "On this record, I think what we wanted to do was bridge the gap between a sort of late '70s/early '80s ELO synth-pop and just being a rock band. I thought, why can't we have these arpeggiators swirling but at the same time be a driving rock band with loud guitars? That was one spot where I felt: this is a space that we can currently inhabit in rock music, because there's nobody else doing this."

It wasn't just a matter of picking up vintage keyboard sounds, but also using all the modern technology and apps at their disposal. "Not that we're trying to make EDM, but we've never been afraid to use as much modern technology as possible. So there are a lot of loud sections in songs like "Champions of Red Wine" and "Dance Hall Domine" that have very chopped-up sounds. I think of taking a sample of a men's choir and chopping it up with a square-wave tremolo... and really embracing the artificiality of those sounds. But at the heart of it, there's nothing artificial about the band that's playing it. It's real bass, real drums, real guitars."

And real sentiments. Newman didn't necessarily want to get as introspective on Brill Bruisers as he was on his last solo album, 2012's Shut Down the Streets, where he dealt with the death of his mother and birth of his son. But personal concerns inevitably snuck in anyhow. "Wide Eyes" is "definitely a song about my son. Though it's not sung in a very, very literal way, that song is about how he changed my life." "Fantasy Fools" also deals with the transition from young man to family man. "Not that I feel like an old man, but you can't help, when you get in your 40s and all of a sudden you have a family, to start thinking about whether there are ways of growing older correctly."

Newman was able to keep a work/family balance by making most of the album over a period of two years at his home studio in Woodstock, with Collins frequently flying in for long stays to work on the production as a duo, much as they did when they made the first three albums in the band's original home base of Vancouver. A certain amount of travel still figured in, "chasing Neko around" to Texas and Vermont, and heading back to Canada for much of the work involving the three songs written and sung by Bejar as well as contributions from drummer Kurt Dahle.

The result, arrived at with some sense of leisure to get it right, "is stylistically as close as we can get to what I think I've always imagined us being," says Newman. I feel like what we did on this has always been in the back of my mind, even from the first record, but we just never did it, like using all the arpeggiators and adding that spacy synth element. It just never seemed right before, and with this record, it completely did. I feel more confident about this record than I've ever felt about anything before. My reaction to somebody not liking this record is 'Well, I don't know what else to do!'"

—Chris Willman
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Do The Pains of Being Pure At Heart belong? After garnering widespread acclaim from the likes of The New York Times, Pitchfork and NME to countless indiepop forums, blogs and even Live Journals for their out-of-nowhere s/t 2009 Slumberland debut, have The Pains made the kind of record that will matter to the kind of people to whom records still matter?

From the opening explosions of electric guitar on "Belong" ("We don't") and the sumptuously synthetic dance pop perfection of "The Body" to the prom-in-heaven chorus of "Even in Dreams" and the closing moments of the uncommonly sincere and affecting "Strange" ("…and dreams can still come true") the answer is an unqualified, resounding (and damn good sounding)

"Yes."

Having moved beyond mimicking, albeit exquisitely, their impressive record collections, this album is a celebration of the possibilities of pop from New York City's pre-eminent indiepop believers. It is as much an affirmative answer to "can they" (rise above their influences? Capture the magic of their debut without repeating it? Use color on their album sleeves?) as it opens the door to the more difficult question of "how do they?" Or more precisely, how do they make such affecting, yet unaffected pop music? How do they sound at once confidently vulnerable and carelessly thoughtful? How does a band on Slumberland make a record with two of the most recognized producers in the world and come out the other end sounding even more like themselves than before? The dichotomies are daunting, but their resolution on Belong is nothing short of stunning.

Recorded with the production and mixing team of Flood (Depeche Mode, U2) and Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride), Belong unleashes added power, while retaining all the sweet sweet melodies that still hit that pop spot.

"I definitely see this album as keeping with what we started doing at the beginning, only more," says singer/guitarist Kip Berman. "More immediate, more noisy, more beautiful. We never stopped believing in noise and pop, but now we've pushed both further. Compared to the last record, It's far more visceral, more vital, more of the body. It's about feeling, not feelings."

A continuation of what they started is a good thing, considering the loyal admirers and grass-roots support for what "could be the most promising indie pop group around" (Pitchfork). Never ones to get bogged down in self-seriousness, though, what we've got here is a band who tends to spend most interviews talking about how barely-remembered underground pop bands of the 80s and 90s are far superior to their own music, eats copious amounts of Haribo Gummi Candy and plays Boggle and Basketball on the road.

"The whole experience has just been a lot of fun for us – and a huge learning process," says singer/keyboardist Peggy Wang, "We've really always gone more on intuition than technique. We've always followed our heart. My favorite bands are the ones where you can tell the people are true friends and would be hanging out together even without playing music – or at least that's what we are and I wouldn't want it any other way."

One can certainly feel the intuitiveness and immediacy in each of the album's ten tracks. But where past offerings might've cocooned front man Kip Berman's woozy tales and beckoning high tenor in layers of gauze, Belong bathes them in a cathedral-like stained-glass light, revealing the beauty and pop perfection that once hid beneath fuzz and reverb. Radiant and heavenly, the band exults in the freedom and possibilities of pushing their sound beyond simple fuzz pop motifs and, liberated from the burden of those fuzzy memories, elevates their songwriting to new heights.

"Alan Moulder and Flood had a lot to do with helping us believe in ourselves, but they didn't try to change the way we did things," says Berman. "They just helped us focus on the things that made us 'us,' and allowed us to go all-in on the things we loved and strip away the things we didn't. It was an amazingly validating experience to even get a chance to work with them, since they came into this because they saw something in our music, not because we were some kind of fat paycheck or will win them a Grammy. Perhaps not, but The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have come a long way since their beginnings as drum-machine equipped neophytes playing a legendary 5 song, ten-minute set at Peggy's birthday party in March of 2007.

Through a self-released EP in 2007 and a series of eagerly-received singles like 2008's "Everything With You" and "Kurt Cobain's Cardigan" the band developed an intensely loyal underground following. Upon release of their self-titled debut album in 2009, that acclaim extended to well-respected cultural tastemakers like The New York Times ("sensitive and sublime, Best of 2009) Pitchfork (Best New Music, Best of 2009) Stereogum ("Addictive pop gold" Best of 2009) and The NME ("pure indiepop to hold close to your heart," Best of 2009).

Looking forward, Spin chose Belong as one of the upcoming "winter albums that matter most", and Pitchfork gave the single "Heart in Your Heartbreak "Best New Music, stating "It's immediately appealing in the same way their debut was."

"At first, it kind of surprised me that anyone would really take notice at all," recalls Berman. "We're an indiepop band and so many of our heroes were pretty much ignored beyond really obsessive music nerds – people like us. So I never expected much more than about maybe 50 people (parents not included) to like us – but hopefully those people would like us a lot. At some point, it occurred to me that 'hey, we're not hitting a wall here, we're actually doing things right and people that might not care about out of print Rocketship singles or Sonic Youth b-sides actually like this as pop music – which to me is even more cool. We're always eager to tell people about bands that are way better than us and educate younger people about all the cool, under-appreciated music out there."

Belong's strength is the quality of the songwriting and each songs ability to sound distinct from one another while still holding together as a unified record from start to finish. Some, like the fuzz-mad "Heaven's Gonna Happen Now," "Girl of 1,000 Dreams" and statuesque "Too Tough" wouldn't sound out of place on their first LP, taking their cues from Berman's plaintive voice and liberal use of fuzz guitar. Others, like "The Body" and "My Terrible Friend" derive their power from drummer Kurt Feldman's pulsing rhythms and Peggy Wang's more pronounced keyboard lines – a winning development that helps push the band beyond their comfort zones to great effect.

One place they never deviate is in their connection with their fans. Like them, The Pains have an idealism that stems from a nearly unhealthy devotion to pop music. Talking to the members one needs to pull out their band-to-conversation calculator, as they are likely to go off about bands they love – from The Pastels, The Promise Ring and Black Tambourine to Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and O.M.D.

"The whole idea of the album, for me, is about what it's like to not belong," says Berman. In part it's like our band – we have all these amazing opportunities, but I feel constantly out of place. Not ungrateful – but like, undeserving. On the other side it's the idea of not feeling a sense of belonging individually and how it's so great to be able to find someone else who doesn't belong so you can not belong together. That's what this band has always been about – being on the outside looking in. We somehow snuck our way into the conversation of 'real bands' even though I still think don't really belong."

Berman might want to rethink that statement — with Belong, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have created a piece of sonic bliss that fits – for the moment, and for the long-run.
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123