The New Pornographers

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS

Challengers (Matador) Who dares challenge The New Pornographers? Challengers, their feisty, pugnacious new record, posits a hypothetical opponent for the Canadian super-group, but after three excellent and acclaimed albums, their challengers are in short supply. Despite the punchy antagonism harmonized on Challengers's lead single, "My Rights, Versus Yours," we have to wonder: Is anyone still fighting it? To these straggling doubters, Challengers may well be the knockout punch, a slow-burner but a winner nonetheless. More bombastic than their last album Twin Cinema, Challengers pays tribute to the greats of power-pop without ever being eclipsed. The band has, by now, honed its sound into a distinct and inimitable argot: equal parts Newman's rollicking, voom-voom melodies, Neko Case's girl-group-gospel yodel and Dan Bejar's studied obscurantism. If the album has a failing it's that the New Porns occasionally fall into their patterns a little too readily, and a throwaway song or two tarnishes the bunch. But there are bold new strokes here as well -- the first six-plus-minute NP epic ("Unguided"), a healthier dose of Destroyerism than ever before ("Myriad Harbour," "Entering White Cecilia"), and bouts of sustained, almost hymn-like loveliness ("All The Old Showstoppers").

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