Creating one of the densest openings a song has ever had, The New Pornographers take ‘Really, Really Light’ from Continue as a Guest and rather than sounding soft and reflective they almost sound like Electric Light Orchestra. Everything jangles and chimes, synths blazing away, and even though not playing on the album, Dan Bejar’s chorus (written for another song) transforms it, “We sit around and talk about the weather/ My heart just like a feather/ Really, really light.” The rest of the song, written by A.C. Newman during the heart of the pandemic, offers just the antidote to the ugly reality of that time.
That should come as no surprise. With Newman at the helm, joined by staples Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, John Collins, Todd Fancey and Joe Seiders, along with the sax of Zach Djanikian, The New Pornographers have used the pandemic, weaving their way through it, coming out on the other side, with sounds and textures that are anything but commonplace. Drums produce a huge sound yet they don’t overpower Case as she sings, ““Now you’re clearing the room / Just like Pontius Pilate/ When he showed all his home movies/ All of his friends yelling, ‘Pilate too soon!’” While the notion of a modern-day Pilate showing the crucifixion as a home movie may seem a tad tawdry, it also establishes that no subjects are out of bounds. But with a song like “Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies” how could there be?
The New Pornographers have found a way to make some of the most intelligent music around, filling it with bombast to burn while still knowing when to tone it back a bit. ‘Cat and Mouse with the Light’ seems almost restrained, the piano in the foreground ablaze with chunky chords. Case’s stuttered “I c-c-can’t stand that you love me” chorus is almost underplayed, she’s sings it so simply and straightforwardly. Why try to embellish something that works perfectly without any embellishment?
One of the most interesting songs is a collaboration with Speedy Ortiz frontwoman, Sadie Dupuis. Newman and Dupuis have never met, yet Newman, who’s a fan of her writing, sent her some music and she got back to him with lyrics, and one line stood out, “firework in the falling snow.” The image it triggered in his mind set him reeling. Suddenly he had a song about love and how it survives. That kind of magic is what makes Continue as a Guest intriguing and addictive.
A band of collaborators and friends, The New Pornographers continue to find ways to work outside the mainstream while creating sounds that never seem be out of place in almost any rock format. While the pandemic gave them the opportunity to spend even more time crafting every note to make it perfect, the performances on Continue as a Guest illustrate that despite the passage of time the transformations that make the band so exciting still exist. May the transformations continue.