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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Ever heard of the Canadian pop band The New Pornographers? Well, a lot of people have. They were formed a decade ago as a side project for its members who are all in other bands. And critics have taken to calling them a supergroup.

Well, our own critic Meredith Ochs says they're not quite that well known.

MEREDITH OCHS: Calling The New Pornographers a supergroup is a misnomer. For that matter, the band's name itself is a misnomer, borrowed from a Jimmy Swaggart quote about music being the new pornography. But supergroup? Not exactly. Although some of their fans might recognize them by sight, The New Pornographers are better known for making vibrant pop music inspired by '70s AM radio and '80s New Wave.

(Soundbite of song "All The Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth")

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: (Singing) All of the things that go to make heaven and Earth are here. All of the things that go to make heaven and Earth. Put your new weight in gold and see what it's worth.

OCHS: On their new CD, The New Pornographers dial down the bounce factor of their earlier work. They lean more heavily on thoughtfully composed, magnificently arranged songs, mostly written by band leader Carl Newman.

Newman is known for his love of big pop compositions. But there are a few surprises here, like the slinky riff and stealthy groove on this song that pull you into a symphonic explosion.

(Soundbite of "All the Old Showstoppers")

Mr. CARL NEWMAN (Vocalist; The New Pornographers): (Singing) And when he got the numbers he thought. Thought of his friends slowed to a halt. Who had questioned to no avail. Some knew the answers, some wouldn't tell.

OCHS: Though they make their home in Vancouver, The New Pornographers offer an evocative snapshot of New York City on this song. They capture the moments of epiphany that can be found by just standing still in the midst of New York's chaotic streets. You can imagine them, or maybe yourself, motionless and meditative as the city rushes by.

(Soundbite of song "Myriad Harbour")

Ms. NEKO CASE (Vocalist; The New Pornographers): (Singing) I took a plane, I took a train.

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: (Singing) Ah, who cares you always end up in the city.

Ms. CASE: (Singing) I said to Carl, look up for once.

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: (Singing) See just how sun sets in the sky.

Ms. CASE: (Singing) I said to John, do you think the girls…

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: (Singing) Ever wonder how they got so pretty?

Ms. CASE: (Singing) Oh, well I do.

THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS: (Singing) Look out upon the Myriad Harbour. Look out upon the Myriad Harbour. Look out upon the Myriad Harbour.

OCHS: On the latest New Pornographers CD, Carl Newman wrote a song for his new bride. He even put her first name in the lyrics. Instead of singing it himself, though, he hands it to country belter Neko Case, a smart move.

(Soundbite of song "Go Places")

Ms. CASE: (Singing) Come one now, come all ye. This story breaks free here. Tales from the back pages from somewhere. Encida Deus ex machina. Good morning, Christina.

OCHS: With her strong, expressive voice, Case transforms what might have been mawkish or too sparse into a stunning moment on the CD. And that's the beauty of this group, their collaboration. When your band mates can take your song far beyond what you can do by yourself, well, that's what I call a real supergroup.

(Soundbite of song "Go Places")

Ms. CASE: (Singing) Come head on, full circle. Our path blocked out but sure we'll make…

SIEGEL: The new album from The New Pornographers is "Challengers." Our reviewer is Meredith Ochs. The band plays in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. And you can get to tell us about hearing the concert live at npr.org/music.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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