New Music: The New Pornographers - "High Ticket Attractions"

The cold reality of our current climate is that even the uplifting news is punctuated with this undercurrent of sadness. For instance, amazing news regarding one of my favorite music acts have to be preempted with a message that essentially says, “Our world is slowly deteriorating, but at least the music is great!” In all honesty, today’s announcement that Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers would be releasing a new album this spring couldn’t have come at a better time. After a rough week of personal and political setbacks, it’s good to know that there are still things worth celebrating.

Formed in 1999 in Vancouver, British Columbia, The New Pornographers always reminded me of The Great White North’s equivalent of the Marvel Comics superhero team, The Avengers. Carl Newman—who goes by A.C. Newman when performing solo—is essentially the Steve Rogers of the group. He’s a natural leader and while other band members will take occasionally the lead on vocals, he often performs the bulk of the songs. Vocalist Neko Case assuredly fits the bill of Black Widow. The multi-faceted singer possesses a talent and confidence that makes her a force to be reckoned with. Kathryn Calder—who is also Carl Newman’s niece—often reminded me of The Wasp, especially Nadia Pym’s latest iteration of the character. She’s sweet and energetic, but musically she’s a powerhouse and has remains the band’s best kept secret since joining in 2005. I was saddened to learn that Dan Bejar—whom is perhaps best known by his solo efforts as the founder of Destroyer—would not be joining the band for their seventh album. Bejar was no doubt the band’s “Tony Stark”: the inventive, charming “leading man” who managed to be equally transparent and enigmatic.

It’s somewhat difficult to believe that it’s been three years since 2014’s Brill Bruisers was released. The album was arguably The New Pornographer’s strongest LP since 2005’s breakthrough, Twin Cinema. I was surprised that despite being their highest-charting album to date (it debuted at #13 on the Billboard U.S. charts), it seemed to go by without seemingly much fanfare from the usual channels. Perhaps that is what makes The New Pornographers such a treat: they play the music they want to play and do things on their own terms. In either their solo performances or playing together as a group, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated group of musicians.

The New Pornographers’ latest single “High Ticket Attractions” checks off many of the boxes that make up their winning formula: Up-tempo beats that’ll get heads nodding and toes tapping? Check. One-two vocal punches from Newman and Case? Double-check! I’ve always felt that the band’s lyrics were intentionally cryptic enough to be applied to multiple situations and find a connection to the listener. However, “High Ticket Attractions” altered this train of thought, as I found this song to speak to me in a way that few others had managed to do beforehand. 

The lyrics of the chorus are particularly telling:

This thing could go two ways
Won’t be another exit for days
So pack a small suitcase
Anything else can be easily replaced

I won’t make any assumptions as to the exact context, but I couldn’t help but apply elements of social commentary to the song. Perhaps that’s my own uneasiness about the state of society clouding my judgement, since most art will undoubtedly be viewed through that filter. It’s uplifting, but also foreboding. It's both whimsical and worrying. Regardless of intent, there has never been a greater need for a band like The New Pornographers than now. I’m beyond thrilled that they’re back. 

Whiteout Conditions will drop on April 7 via the band’s own label, the aptly-named Collected Works Records. They’ll be touring with Alabama-based indie rock band Waxahatchee beginning on April 18 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Check out the tour dates below, plus the lyric video for “High Ticket Attractions.”

Tour Dates:

4/18 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue^
4/19 - Chicago, IL - Metro^
4/20 - Milwaukee, WI - Pabst Theater^
4/21 - Chicago, IL - Metro^
4/22 - Columbus, OH - Newport Music Hall^
4/25 - Boston, MA - House of Blues^
4/26 - New York, NY - Terminal 5^
4/27 - Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer^
4/28 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club^
5/1 - Raleigh, NC - The Ritz^
5/2 - Atlanta, GA - Variety Playhouse^
5/3 - New Orleans, LA - Tipitina's^
5/4 - Houston, TX - White Oak Music Hall^
5/5 - Dallas, TX - Granada Theater^
5/6 - Austin, TX - Stubb's Waller Creek Amphitheater^

^ with Waxahatchee