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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The New Pornographers
Twin Cinema
Matador Records

Rating: 10/10 ?

September 1, 2005
I recently attended a book reading for pop culturist and SPIN columnist Chuck Klosterman, where the inevitable question was posed: "What new music are you listening to?" I'm sure wherever he goes, Chuck is hounded by music geeks trying to both 1.) Look cool in front of other bespeckled alpha males and 2.) Get a hot tip on a new band only half of the SPIN office has heard of. I'm also sure the answer he offered is the same, night after night: "I don't really listen to new music that much... I mean, whose life would be any different if they hadn't heard the new Arcade Fire album yet?"

It's hard to think of a rebuttal for this thought. Listening to music isn't a race, and as Klosterman pointed out, newness isn't a mark of quality. I, like everyone else in the Barnes and Noble non-fiction section that night, felt a little uneasy hearing these words come from someone we look to for analysis of contemporary culture; are we wasting our time reading record reviews, scanning Limewire and running out to check the new releases rack every Tuesday? Would our lives be different without new music?

After listening to Twin Cinema, I can assure you they would be.

At least, my life would be different. Since first hearing the album a week ago, I have been a happier person. I have been playing the fourteen tracks over and over again, and as a result, my disposition has been sunnier. Suddenly food tastes better, the stars shine brighter and my commute to work is a pleasure. My faith in the spirit of the times has been restored; I feel neither guilty nor cheap when I say I love all sorts of music that has been made within my lifetime, though the Klostermans of the world would have me believe Fleetwood Mac was the last important band. With Twin Cinema, The New Pornographers have elevated themselves from a band I really like to a band that I can't live without.

If my language is hyperbolic, it's because The New Pornographers demand a certain amount of exaggeration. The Canadian collective does their thang bigger and better than any other similar act out nowadays, setting the standard for catchiness, quirkiness and edginess. The band is true to the term "super group," in that they are all superior musicians who work together as a group to create a band greater than the sum of its parts: A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar and Neko Case all have credible solo careers going, but put them together in the same studio and you get albums like this one, packed with songs that could only be the result of fruitful collaboration.

Opener and title track, "Twin Cinema", picks up where Electric Version left off, with crunching guitar riffs and the call and response style singing of Newman and Case et al. It is a treat to know that the kids are still alright, still playing their best hand of the power pop that made them so endearing on their first two albums.

From there, Twin Cinema hits its stride with "The Bones of an Idol" and moves into the sound that will more or less dictate the next 45 minutes. The song begins fairly slowly after the head-jerking pace of the first, with Ms. Case announcing, "Something keeps turning us on…" just as the piano jam downbeat hits. In proper New Pornographers style, the song moves from catchy to brilliant when the chorus comes in - or rather the lack thereof. Though there are about 17 singers appearing, the chorus has no lyrics, only some "OOOOOoooOOOs" to accompany the shimmering guitar.

"The Bones of an Idol" is only one of a dozen tracks on this album that shows off the New Pornographers' dexterity. Dan Bejar has always been the ace in the hole for the group, acting as a studio member only and penning some of the band's kookier tracks (see: "Jackie," "Chump Change"). On Twin Cinema, Bejar sounds like a New Pornographer as never before, gelling with the group's penchant for over-the-top-ness. "Jackie Dressed in Cobras" combines Bejar's weirdly inviting vocals, Newman's straight-time rock and a whole lot of instrumentation. It's one of the disc's finest tracks, and probably the best song Bejar has ever written.

Case, too, has her chance to shine more than ever. Her "These Are the Fables" is a reminder of how transcendent her voice is, as she transitions from backup falsetto to front-and-center chanteuse. The way she sings "Ten-thousand dancing girls kicking cans 'cross the sky/No reason why/Why ask, prepare yourself for the call of the wild" is enough to make the track an instant mix tape hit.

The centerpiece, however, is without a doubt Newman's brainchild, "The Bleeding Heart Show"; everything that you've come to know and love about the New Pornographers is compacted into 4:27, complete with a surprise ending. The track builds momentum slowly but surely, and you get the feeling the moderate pop façade will erupt at any moment into some glorious starburst of pop- and then it does. Around two minutes in, the "oooOOOOooos" return, gliding over the surface of the churning drums. It is a great, peaking moment for the song, the album and the band.

But the show is just beginning. After this graceful interlude, the finale kicks in… with traditional African chant. While the rest of the band (it sounds like it could be 50 people) sings their asses off with "HEY LAA HEY LAAs," Neko Case gloriously declares, "We have arrived too late to play the Bleeding Heart Show." If my iTunes counter is accurate, I've listened to this song over 20 times and I still get goose bumps every time I hear it.

The wave of euphoria doesn't end there, either. Songs like "Sing Me Spanish Techno," "Broken Breads" and "Stacked Crooked" each offer at least two memorable hooks apiece as they twist and turn through codas and choruses. Steadier arrangements like "Use It" and "The Jessica Numbers" don't fall as far from the New Porno tree, but they prove how great a simple pop song can sound when taken seriously (but not too much so).

If Twin Cinema falters at all, it does so with "Falling Through Your Clothes," which uses a snippet of music taken from the Electric Version era and would have been better suited as a B-side.

The New Pornographers may not change your life… they are just a band. You may want to even follow Klosterman's three year rule and play it safe with your record collection. On the other hand, why would you want to hold out on hearing an album this good? I, for one, don't know if the New Pornographers will stand the test of time, and to be honest, I don't really care. While other critics wait around for Twin Cinema to be canonized, I'll indulge myself in the immediacy of the CD.

Reviewed by Andy Brown
A regular contributor to LAS, Andy Brown lives in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, but doesn\'t think he has an accent.

See other reviews by Andy Brown



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