The New Pornographers’ Together was one of 2010’s standout albums, but compared with Vampire Weekend’s Contra, Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz and Broken Bells’ self-titled debut — all of which successfully incorporated electronic elements into their creators’ indie sounds — its string-aided rock was a bit of an outlier. Four years later, arpeggiators and synthesizers are all over the band’s follow-up, Brill Bruisers, accurately suggesting a game of catch-up — just not with their aforementioned peers.
“I don’t think our reference point was anything modern,” says band founder Carl Newman. “It was more early ’80s ELO — very retro and futuristic, sort of a past vision of the future. It’s a fun thing to mess around with, and I see using even more of it on our next record.”
Newman, who brings his group to The Orange Peel on Wednesday, Nov. 5, cites Flying Lotus, Animal Collective, Panda Bear and Daft Punk as bands that use a lot of electronic elements in appealing ways. For him, though, the genre holds little appeal. “A lot of EDM sounds really shitty to me — really boring and not that far removed from the dance sound of 20 years ago. But that’s just me,” Newman says.
Formed in Vancouver in 1999, The New Pornographers boast an impressive arsenal of vocal talent with Neko Case, Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar and Newman sharing lead duties. According to Newman (who lives in Woodstock, New York), figuring out who to use when is based more on feel and trial and error than a plan. “I’m never really pushing for myself as a singer,” he says. “I just write songs and figure out what to do with them later.”
From the start, Newman thought Brill Bruisers’ “Marching Orders” would be great for Case. He initially sang lead on “Champions of Red Wine” before deeming it a better fit for her as well. For Bejar’s three contributions, however, Newman says it was obvious that the songs were meant for their writer.
While these compositions came together, Destroyer released Kaputt in 2011 and Case made 2013’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Newman remembers listening to an advance copy of Kaputt in his car, and he heard bits and pieces of The Worse Things Get… while he was in the studio with Case, but he says those albums had little influence on Brill Bruisers. “Maybe some stuff from Kaputt, but at the same time, I try to keep a distance between the sound of The New Pornographers and Destroyer,” Newman says.
As for the influence of the rest of the band (including Blaine Thurier, John Collins, Kathryn Calder and Todd Fancey), that’s even more difficult to pinpoint — especially with Case’s limited availability. “We barely see Neko. It’s very hard. We basically bring her in and say, ‘Do this, do this, do this.’ There isn’t that much time for collaboration,” Newman says. “There’s much more of that in working with Dan on his songs.”
The name Brill Bruisers came from shortening the phrase “brilliant bruisers,” which is sung multiple times in the opening track. “I think it was the idea of trying to be the perfect person — trying to be really intelligent and really tough at the same time,” Newman says. “It’s what you would need to succeed in the world. You’d need to be a brilliant bruiser or something like that.”
The title also name-checks New York City’s Brill Building, where writers such as the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David crafted some of pop music’s biggest hits from the ’50s and ’60s. Newman knew about the Brill from reading Ken Emerson’s Always Magic in the Air about 10 years ago.
Though he’s always been fascinated by other songwriters, having an office with colleagues and competitors down the hall doesn’t interest him. “I think that would be very weird. I’ve always respected the people who could work in that environment, but it’s absolutely not the way I work,” Newman says. “The idea of sitting in a room and pounding out a song in a few hours or a few in a day, that seems crazy to me. I have a lot of respect for it because it’s something I can’t do.”
WHO: The New Pornographers with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
WHERE: The Orange Peel, theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. $25 advance/$28 at the door