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Meet the new porn

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Somewhere in the mid-to-late 1980s one of America’s most important pop culture social scenes found itself morphing into a post-rock organism. Eighteen-year-old men enrolled at state universities across the country uttered a collective sigh of dissatisfaction. An obvious dearth of interesting music had forced them to turn their backs on arena rock and sent these newly christened “alternative music” wonks riffling through tape bin after tape bin, in search of anything whose album cover did not sport a spaceship or have band names which used the letter “z” where the letter “s” rightfully resided.

Nowadays, bands such as the Replacements, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Pixies, and R.E.M. (who ultimately became saviors for this new breed of slightly pedantic music lover) rest quietly in their places in rock ‘n’ roll history. If you investigate, you’ll find them en masse in the record collections of the newest generation of marketing execs, young soccer moms and music journos. The same types of people comprise the all-thirtysomething Canadian pop band, the New Pornographers, and the people who adore them.

The New Pornographers (on Matador Records) are one of the music world’s newest babes in arms. Fronted by the highly respected singer-songwriter Carl Newman and alt-country enchantress Neko Case, these Vancouverites write songs that are frustratingly impossible to criticize and hopelessly catchy. They are parts Fleetwood Mac and Wilco, Beatles and Matthew Sweet, and it seems as though they just can’t write a bad song. And every American music critic over the age of 30 is fawning over them, which, in this case, ain’t such a bad thing.

But even the Rolling Stones were criticized some of the time. How do the Pornographers do it? How do the New Pornographers manage to seduce your average pasty, white, male music journo? Well, maybe it is because:

1) The Pixies broke up.

Modern-day Holden Caulfields everywhere panicked at the end of this Kim Deal/Frank Black musical partnership. Those of us who looked for something more than the blatantly limp, recycled bullshit being sold to us as rock ‘n’ roll found respite in the Pixies, with their smart, beautifully skewered songs. Many cried softly into their Rolling Rocks when the news of the Pixies’ split hit the papers. Maybe the New Pornographers filled a void?

2) There’s just something about Canadian pop music that gets us every time.

If one thing separates Americans from our hockey-obsessed pals to the north, it’s the amount of oafishness we deem cool. The NP’s fellow nerd-rockers Sloan, Broken Social Scene and the Flashing Lights have won us over with catchy tunes and a toned-down, skillfully apathetic sense of style.

3) Lyrics matter.

A band like the New Pornographers isn’t afraid of simple storytelling that offers listeners admission to direct experience that is hard to find elsewhere. Lead singer Carl Newman says, “I write songs that I want to hear.” Listen to “The Laws Have Changed” off their latest, Electric Version, and you’ll find a song worth absorbing.

4) You will never run across a New Pornographers video while watching a “Real World” marathon.

In fact, you probably will never see a New Pornographers video at all. To date, the Pornographers have made only two videos: The first was “Letter from an Occupant” off the band’s debut, Mass Romantic, which seemed more like a spoofed “Kids in the Hall” montage than a music video. Their most recent video, “The Laws Have Changed,” is nothing short of a bore. Both videos are lackluster enough to secure themselves quick stints on MTV2’s late-night indie wankfest “Subterranean.”

Truth be told, I wanted to hate the New Pornographers, what with all these critics going apeshit. But the new CD is now a constant companion, a sound track to now.

 

See the New Pornographers at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward, Detroit) on Monday, July 7, with the Organ and I am Spoonbender. Call 313-833-9700 for information.

Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail edoster@metrotimes.com

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