I picked up The New Pornographers‘ most recent effort, Twin Cinema last week; it sounds pretty good on a preliminary few listens, though not as instantly infectious as sophomore album The Electric Version, but I haven’t had a chance yet to pay proper attention to it, since I’ve had Death Cab for Cutie‘s Plans in pretty much constant iPod rotation. I’m actually a bit worried that this initial infatuation may be a sign that it won’t hold up over the long term—contrast Transatlanticism, which took a while to grow on me, but is now among my favorites. Think of movies like American Beauty or Garden State: In the right frame of mind, they’re good for one viewing, but past that you can’t help but see the strings. It is, for instance, hard to gainsay much of what this Pitchfork Media reviewer has to say, and while I’m normally a fan of Ben Gibbard’s lyrics, you’ve got to wonder whether he’s getting lazy when you encounter Kilmeresque doggerel like:
I once knew a girl
In the years of my youth
With eyes like the summer
All beauty and truth
Mortality casts a long shadow over the songs here. “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” opens:
You may tire of me as our December sun is setting
because I’m not who I used to be
No longer easy on the eyes
And there’s a kind of Tristan and Isolde unity-through-death motif that crops up in at least three songs: It’s the central theme of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” but also rears its head in “Soul Meets Body” (“But if the silence takes you / then I hope it takes me too.”) and “What Sarah Said” (“Love is watching someone die / So who’s going to watch you die?”). Gibbard does better when he eschews this sort of frontal assault and works as a miniaturist and lets God (or the Devil) be in the details. This is also probably their most slickly produced album—unlike Transatlanticism, you sense the influence of the Postal Service side project. “Soul Meets Body” is probably the most aggressively poppy song the band’s released—which in itself is fine, but (and I’d have to do a back-to-back listen to confirm this) it means less interesting composition than you’d expect on the basis of an album like We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes.
These might all be serious problems if this weren’t a collection of some incredibly, sublimely pretty songs. The Pitchfork review’s technically on target, but sometimes, as Wordsworth had it, we do murder to dissect. Deactivate your critic chip and give this one a listen.