It's already been a pretty solid year in terms of great music being released, and this follow-up by The New Pornographers just adds another release to the pile. After the release of their critically-lauded Mass Romantic a couple years back, the loose collective of friends and musicians slowly pulled themselves back together and commenced work on what would become this release. Whereas the first release was one that was recorded over a fairly long period of time, with different members coming and going as they had the chance, Electric Version finds them settling into more of a regular band shape, and although the album was still recorded over the course of nearly a year, it feels more like a band effort, allowing itself to breathe a little more in places.
Part of the charm of Mass Romantic was that it was simply packed to the brim with melodies and little instrumental flourishes. Unlike some bands who keep piling different tracks onto a recording, though, they somehow managed to find just the right combination of sounds that it didn't end up sounding like a giant mess. Like most bands know, it's that fine line of knowing when to add and when to quit with a song that makes all the difference. All of the above isn't to imply that Electric Version is a stripped-down affair by any means. There are still 5 solid members of the band along with the extra players, and the 13 tracks on this disc never feel bare.
Simply stated, if you enjoyed the last release by the group, you're going to enjoy the hell out of this one as well. There are still enough hooks and sing-along choruses to have you belting out lyrics at the top of your lungs, and the 45 minutes still go by like a breeze. "Electric Version" busts the albums out of the gates with bouncy guitars and keyboards while Carl Newman again holds things down with his falsetto vocals before the full-on chorus comes in and the lovely Neko Case provides backup. In addition to Case singing backup on several tracks (and main on some tracks), Dan Bejar is back as well, and his additions are a welcome changeup too.
There are so many little pop gems on the album that one could simply say listen to the whole thing from start to finish, but a couple of the standouts include the Case-fronted "All For Swinging You Around," which goes from loud verses to nice quiet choruses before building it all up again. "Testament To Youth In Verse" is a Bejar-led singalong chocked full of dilectable melodies and a completely great piano refrain that the group piles staggered vocals and a rich bassline on. Newman gets his fair share of winners as well, including the completely infectious "The Laws Have Changed" and a whole slew of others. Although their music doesn't have a lot in common with fellow Canadians Broken Social Scene, there's no denying that some of the best pop (experimental or otherwise) is coming from the maple leafs lately. All I know is that I hope they keep it coming.