Looking at albums as a whole, artists walk a file line between a collection of distinct, disjointed tracks that lack a unifying aspect, or a compilation of tracks that are so unified it seems like a single 45-minute song (cf. Maroon 5’s Songs About Jane). To varying degrees, some artists are able to balance these extremes, producing a cohesive mix of songs that flow together yet remain differentiated. Probably my favorite example of this is Ben Kweller’s Sha Sha, an album with songs as seemingly divergent as “Falling” and “Wasted and Ready”, yet when listened to as a whole, it all seems to just go together.
As far as I’m concerned, the most consistent band in this regard is The New Pornographers. Now on their fourth album, Challengers, frontman Carl Newman and the group do it again. Each album is distinct from the others, with its own feel and appeal. And within each album, the songs are fully differentiated from each other, but cohesive parts of the whole. (This is all the more intriguing because Newman shares songwriting duties with fellow member Dan Bejar, who writes about a third of the songs on his own. Somehow all the songs still retain that organic, unified feel. I think this speaks to the stellar collaborative abilities of all involved.)
Here I’m tempted to go into an album review, but I’m too tired to actually analyze the music, right? So what do I do? I listen to it, and think about how to describe the sort of quiet, pulsing immensity of songs like “Failsafe” or “Myriad Harbor”, but decades of hyperbole has rendered most suitable adjectives soggy and listless. They are without list. I want to talk about how it’s cool that the album, and it’s titular song, contain a subtle comicbook reference (“Challengers of the Unknown”), but how could I work that in? I’d like to say how happy I am that even though goddess Neko Case takes more of a back seat on this album, Kathryn Calder plays her own amplified role brilliantly. But then I’d feel obligated to explain who those people are, and that would mess up the flow. That would be too much work. The truth is, I don’t think I even want mess up this musical symbiosis I have going by trying to explain it. I’d rather let the silvery rhyme scheme and consonance of “Unguided” dance on my tongue. Or explore my own “Adventures in Solitude,” as it rises to its soaring bridge section. So, no, screw it, I’m not going to even try to review it.