Kathryn Calder and Carl Newman of The New Pornographers.
Kathryn Calder and Carl Newman of The New Pornographers. Chona Kasinger
"Does anybody really know how to write a song well?" Carl Newman of The New Pornographers asked in the interview during his band's latest studio session at KEXP. I had wondered whether anything was different in the recording of the group's most recent release, Challengers, its fourth and most mature effort yet. "Flailing" was the term Newman used to describe the process of experimentation that led to an album that — for many critics and DJs — will be a strong contender to year-end best-of lists.
Until the band performed its stripped-down acoustic set in our intimate studio, I didn't realize just how well the songs hold true and retain their heart in any setting. I sat glued to my seat as Newman and the rest of the band — Kathryn Calder on accordion, Paul Rigby on mandolin, John Collins on acoustic bass, Todd Fancey on acoustic guitar and Jon Wurster on percussion — "flailed" through the "skiffle" versions, as Carl jokingly described it, of "All the Old Show Stoppers," "Failsafe" and "My Rights Versus Yours." For all his modesty, this is a band that understands the craft of songwriting.
More About The New Pornographers
After three albums of energetic and inventive power-pop, Vancouver band The New Pornographers slows it down a bit with Challengers. While Carl (A.C.) Newman remains the group's locus, all of the group members, who each have musical projects of their own, contributed their unique talents to make Challengers a rich and rewarding disc. Although fan favorites Neko Case and Dan Bejar were not present for the recording of this in-studio performance, it does include guitarist Paul Rigby, who plays with Case, and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster.