By Emilie Medland-Marchen, April 27 2017 —
The New Pornographers haven’t changed much in their nearly two decades on the music scene. Whiteout Conditions is an album that’s almost frozen in time, much like the band themselves. The album is a powerful nostalgic trip with the usual stringy vocals backed up by discordant instrumentals. The eight-piece collection brings a mix of vocals and instrumentals, with harmony that’s sometimes angelic and sometimes annoyingly out of sync. But if you’re looking for something new and innovative from Canada’s indie darlings, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Whiteout Conditions begins with “Play Money,” a synth-pop infused intro that hooks and catches attention. Neko Case’s familiar voice is as melodic as ever as she waxes lyrical with lines like “I only play for money, honey, look at what this fun has done to me.” The angsty roots of The New Pornographers are still evident, but they’ve become so tailored and familiar that, at times, the album resembles a teen drama soundtrack.
Nevertheless, the album carries on, blending neatly into its title track. Here, frontman A.C Newman’s chops are on full display — and his voice hasn’t aged a bit. Case and Newman weave into an uneasy duet on the song, but it isn’t original enough to warrant interest. It’s much the same formula seen in past singles like “Letter from an Occupant” or “The Electric Version” creating an unimpressive climax in a top-heavy collection.
The best track comes mid-album in “This is the World of the Theatre.” Here, Case leads boring instrumentals in a catchy yet repetitive tune — but the rhyming is strong enough to carry attention. “All the phantom, by the nose they pass. You’re on your way to dine, they call you from their hiding places on the shoulders of your chance,” Case sings. The song sounds like the perfect backtrack to a day at the beach — but beyond that, it doesn’t offer much.
From here, the album goes downhill fast. The aptly titled “We’ve Been Here Before” is emblematic of the album and the band’s direction. The attempt to recreate a formula that’s worked many times before isn’t convincing enough to keep listening. With contemporaries like Tegan and Sara and Arcade Fire adapting to new styles and heading in a poppier direction, perhaps it’s time that The New Pornographers follow suit.