If an artist can hang around long enough, chances are they’ll release a “best-of” collection. Or maybe a “very best of,” or a “greatest hits” package, or even a shameless batch of “ultimate super hits.” But what about musicians who don’t have “hits”? Just because your music hasn’t ridden the charts doesn’t mean it should be lacking an enticing primer. From a potential fan’s perspective, perhaps you’ve heard tell of a mind-blowing band with great albums to their credit, but getting that introductory taste has been a difficult score. Fret no more, and welcome to a new Trunkworthy feature that offers up our own judicious “best-of” for bands that we feel you—the bold, adventurous listener—need to know. We’re aware that your ear space is valuable, so we’ll be serving up ten choice selections from a group’s oeuvre, be they cuts deep or otherwise.
We’re kicking things off with indie pop darlings The New Pornographers, a Canadian group that takes wickedly crafted hooks, infectious melodies, and a wistful/surreal/poetic lyrical vision and turns it all into some of the best music this side of Fountains of Wayne. The septet came to life in Vancouver in 2000, founded by primary singer-songwriter Carl “A.C.” Newman, who gathered some of the finest local talent to create what has long been dubbed an indie supergroup. Not an inaccurate term when you’re talking about members like folk/country/noir chanteuse Neko Case and Destroyer front man Dan Bejar, not to mention Newman himself, who—like pretty much everyone in the group—has a thriving solo career. Which, by the way, makes for a bit of a revolving door membership situation.
Over the course of six studio albums, The New Pornographers have embraced the pure pop sound of bands like the Electric Light Orchestra, The Cars, Wings, and 10cc along with the breathtakingly quirky melodic angles of XTC and joyous new wave bubble synth of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, all slathered with stick-and-move co-ed harmonies of the highest order.
Take “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” from 2005’s Twin Cinema, an irresistible number that blends garagey boom-thwack with soaring Hollies-like harmonies. “Challengers,” from the 2007 album of the same name, opens with the vibratoed guitar line recall of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset,” continuing in a subdued but steady march ahead that takes full advantage of the group’s multiple vocal magnificence. There are, by the way, four lead singers in this outfit, including guitarist John Collins and keyboardist Kathryn Calder, and each come bearing their own unique gifts. The band’s most-recent release, 2014’s Brill Bruisers, is represented here by the strident title track, one that benefits from Newman’s and Collins’ majestic Wall of Spector production.
Okay. If that sounds like a lot—not to mention lyrics that can give Robyn Hitchcock a run for his money—it is, but fear not the overwhelming talent. The New Pornographers distill their vast and deep musical intelligence into something perfectly gettable, and it feels like they’re having a blast all the while. It’s music as suitable for critical analysis as it is whistle bait. But, hey, don’t take our word for it. Give these ten should-been-hits a listen and let us know what you think.