The New Pornographers 

Challengers

When singer-songwriter A.C. Newman decamped to Brooklyn prior to the recording of the New Pornographers' fourth studio album last year, who knew he'd emerge sounding like Canada's answer to Emitt Rhodes? In working from their well-deserved reputation for crafting intelligent slices of infectious power-pop, the Pornos have considerably upped the ante thanks to Newman's decision to load on "real" instruments like glockenspiel, harp, flute, and even an entire string section. All the baroque pop trappings do end up sapping some of the snappiness inherent in the band's earlier material, although the jittery "All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth" achieves its goal of being an early Roxy Music homage with its thunderous bottom, galloping rhythm, and chirping fife accompaniment. The most egregious collateral damage comes via the half-baked "Failsafe," a cut that hinges a tremolo guitar to propel the tempo à la Johnny Marr. With Neko Case relegated to only two songs, of which her reverb-laden title cut exudes a Lee Hazlewood-like melancholy, Newman's grandiose experiments (the six-minute-plus epic "Unguided") butt up against Dan Bejar's quirkier moments, such as his Pixies nod "Myriad Harbor." Despite the lack of zip, the musical layers still make for intriguing listening. — Dave Gil de Rubio

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