While writing this, their seventh album, New Pornographers mainstay AC Newman said the Canadians wanted to create something of a Krautrock version of 60s and 70s vocal group 5th Dimension. And, I suppose, on songs such as Darling Shade, with its hypnotic, repetitive beat and curdling bass line, they came close to succeeding.
Newman’s 5th Dimension reference is telling, for he and co-vocalist Neko Case work so closely in tandem that neither ever really takes the lead vocally – instead their voices cascade over the top and around each other in a way that is mostly dazzling. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Dan Bejar, normally the third prong in their vocal and songwriting attack, doesn’t take part on this album, busy instead with his other band, Destoyer.
Whiteout Conditions starts spectacularly. Openers Play Money and the title track are jam-packed with earworm melodies, setting the tone for an album that is upbeat and heavy on synths. Appearances can be deceiving, though. As peppy as the title track might be, it actually essays a dark period of depression for Newman.
From there the album doesn’t quite maintain the quality of its opening songs. For every moment of pop magic, such as This is the World of the Theater, there’s a track such as Juke, which perhaps attains the album’s Krautrock inspired goal, but doesn’t really captivate.
The saving grace here, though, is that even an under par New Pornographers song is usually pretty good. But then that means our expectations are also pretty high, and they’re not always met here.