Union Transfer


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


Sold Out

This event is all ages

The New Pornographers featuring A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar (Destroyer)
The New Pornographers featuring A.C. Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar (Destroyer)
For what purpose the popular song? Does the popular song have a purpose? Is it just a sequence of auditory gestures, desperate acts, adrift in the bigger broader silence of an unforgiving cultural landscape? In what follows, we will assume that the purpose of the popular song is to unite warring disputants and to repair the manifold puncture wounds of life, so that life is revealed, again, as less accursed than it appears. And let's assume that we go on listening to the popular song, which in the vast majority of its iterations is a failure, because we are chronic in our need for this rehabilitation of our puncture-wounded selves. Take any fine example, take "All You Need Is Love," by the Beatles, or "Walk Away, Renee," by the Left Banke, or "Tears of a Clown," by Smokey Robinson. Try listening to these songs. Almost immediately, your suppurations begin to clot.

Into this tryingly difficult history of the popular song stride The New Pornographers, into a period in which it has to be acknowledged that the medium is mostly dead, is passed, is no longer a uniting force, but, more frequently, a medium of division, one entirely controlled by the Ownership Society and made profitable according to shareholders who don't give a fuck if your puncture wounds are healed over as long as the product ships. The New Pornographers, stunningly, do not seem to understand that the popular song is dead, is passed, and The New Pornographers, despite their complete and nearly monastic understanding of the Secret Knowledge of the popular song, will themselves into being, characterized by a uniform devotion to the great history that precedes them by only a couple of decades, and their coming into being in a somewhat unlikely place, Vancouver, not previously noted for a unvarying profusion of rock genius, is particular not only for uniformity of purpose but because they manage, in this uniformity, to bring a considerable cast of local adepts all as one into the tent. The cast of adepts is now well known, but includes at least two startlingly good songwriters, three spectacularly good singers, one of the very best drummers in all of contemporary music, an in-house filmmaker-and that is merely to scratch the surface on the question of bench strength, the shocking amount of bench strength in a band in which everyone seems to be able to produce quality audio emanations from any instrument and to sing, and in which the studio is an instrument as it is in few bands.

Their first album is great, and is power pop, power pop, and more power pop, their second album (Electric Version) refines the form and tinkers, with more studio brilliance on display, the third, viz., Twin Cinema, is an artier thing and a proggier thing, revealing a breadth of confidence, and a breadth of confidences, both senses, and a command of lyrical nuance and anthemic talents that display themselves in unusual spots, in songs that don't begin anthemically, but which then reveal urgencies; Challengers, the fourth, has some quieter annunciations on it, seems to come from a place of adulthood, from a recognition that urgency can be in the theme, and the affirmation of the song is not in the lyric necessarily, but in the commitment, in the commitment to the sonnet-like cadences of the popular song, and the title song herein, "Challengers," a miniature about a romantic entanglement that literally walks past the narrator, takes us far beyond the adolescences of the popular song into the adult spot where really great songwriters begin to ply their craft.

Which brings us to the ineradicable present, which is the moment when The New Pornographers have already done everything they can do, in some senses; they have had songs in films and on television, they have toured the world, they are respected and covered and well reviewed and lionized, and everyone in the band has a justifiably earned reputation for excellence and admirability, chief among them A. C. Newman, first among equals with respect to these musical bulletins, Neko Case, the singer who never met a line of lyrics that she could not in same way make indelible, and Dan Bejar, the stealth member and interpretation-resistant Mandarin troubadour.

There are no more interesting rock and roll bands, you know, there are opiate-addicted white boys who cannot play very well and who are unwilling to turn down the amplifiers so as to be heard, and there are machines and auto-tuned fembots, and there are hip hoppers with public-relations simulated gangster simulations, and there are working-class guys with a lot of tattoos who can play really, really fast. But there are no more interesting rock and roll bands, and there are no longer songs that make you want to get out of bed. Still, The New Pornographers are unable not to behave like underdogs of yearning, like a united front of yearning, and they are also unable, it seems, to resist the challenge to make a perfect album, a form so dead that it is on its seventh wave of maggotry, and so they have an eye on history, and they do love a windmill, they love to charge, and they do not know how to do otherwise now, which means that theirs is a contagious form of yearning, and if in part their longing is postmodern, which is to say that they often writes songs that are about other songs ("Crash Years," e.g., is about "You" by George Harrison, and "Moves" is, in part, about "25 or 6 to 4," by the beleaguered Chicago), they are not able to treat the form simply as a kind of commentary (which has caused others fatefully to go awry), but also as a surgical intervention for puncture-wounded civilians everywhere, as a joy delivery-system, and in this joy-delivery system there are new and interesting twists, for those who are curious about what the ineradicable contemporary moment sounds like, sound-wise, and the twists on this new album, have to do with strings, really, and with a sort of chamber pop orientation, lots of cello, that is, of a sort that calls to mind the amazing Sister Lovers LP by Big Star, around whose open wounds A. C. Newman has orbited in the past but more fearfully than now.

Fewer keyboard flourishes, and fewer things that sound like they necessitated a good computer programmer, and more things that sound like A. C. Newman and the rest of the band playing in a room. This is probably an illusion, this playing together, but it is an illusion with a purpose, because there are at least two songs on this album that use togetherness as the assembling cement, the epoxy of their composition. The first of these is a big rock song, "Your Hands (Together)," and as you would expect the putting of hands together also occasions a silver bullet, of the mortally inflicting variety, which is the paradoxical sort of thematic approach that we would expect from songwriters who are no longer young, and who are willing to write a couplet that answers the question "What's love?" with the response: "What turns up in the dark." All of this is perforation for the tearing away of the final track, "We Get Together," in which the hook, the title, is at the very end, buried in the mix, and the whole is about familial dynamics, much in the way that "Oh, Sister," from Bob Dylan's Desire is about familial dynamics, which is to say not at all, and more about the injunction to "do damage" than it is about familiar unity, "I'm for damage, sweet damage," Newman and Case sing, and the cellos come back around, with their genteel bolshevism, with a hint of the early Electric Light Orchestra, and Carl goes in and out of his falsetto as he does when he's winding up like a violent debater, and they hold back on the drumming, which is what they do, until it's absolutely necessary, and that is a big advantage when the drummer is this great, and then we come to the out chorus, in which Case seems to be singing "ma ma ma ma," as if to mislead you into thinking that the song, is about familial dynamics, and Newman sings "we end up together," and then there is guitar feedback. End credits.

What does he mean about ending up together? What would it mean for a popular song, while clearly supporting an aesthetic palette devoted to "sweet damage," nonetheless to support the idea of ending up together? Is it, paradoxically, about the kind of romantic failure that makes for all the best popular songs? Is it a recognition that the only unifying that can come from the contemporary popular song is the kind of togetherness that recognizes the truth of human life, namely that all is apartness, and all is lonesomeness, and this even if the principle songwriter in the band is recently married, and, by all evidence, reasonably content? Yes, it's all about the ship going down, and the rats leaping from the sinking vessel, the vessel of the popular song, and there is nothing to do but to celebrate a recognition of this rats-going-down business, and, nonetheless, to view the articulation of same as a joy and a responsibility, such that the best joy-delivery system is the song itself, so that the medium is dead and yet is being used to celebrate its death, and it's in our mutual recognition of apartness that we are most together. (The band setting is no different, in this way, from quotidian human life. It is a triumph over the entropic energy that would drive it, the band, apart.)

This is an eschatological approach, and, indeed, some of what you are hearing on Together, by the New Pornographers, is a band of ghosts who are mining their fin de sicle imagery for all its worth, even though we are at the beginning of a century. They are from Vancouver (mostly), they still believe that they have something to say, they are adults, they don't use drum machines, they are not emcees. What could they possibly have going for them? Everything they stand for is over, they are the last iteration, they are the bitter end, the sweet aftertaste of something intoxicating. And yet they believe in doing it, still, together. We are so much the better for it.
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)


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