In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
The New Pornographers have always had a way of balancing the direct and the oblique—certainly there aren’t a lot of bands out there that could venture the word “metastasize” in a chorus (“You’ll Need a New Backseat Driver”) or play out an extended reference to Ptolemy (“One Kind of Solomon”) and still land in the ballpark of casual conversation, let alone sound like they’re having fun doing it. Stylized, energetic, less synth-centric than 2017’s Whiteout Conditions but just as densely packed in arrangement and metaphor, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights—the band’s second in a row written primarily by A.C. Newman without Destroyer’s Dan Bejar—is, well, a New Pornographers album, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that they’ve been putting them out for 20 years. As usual, there’s the sense that the band is rallying against the corroding influence of invisible forces, a volunteer army of idealists holding steady against prevailing winds of corporate takeover, creative surrender, and apathy in general. “Drifting like proper castaways/Didn’t need a war but it’s here I’d say,” Newman sings on the tumbling power pop of “The Surprise Knock.” “So smile big until it’s thrown us clear/We might be on, be on to something here.” Whether Newman is right or wrong is beside the point—the victory lies in sheer persistence. And Neko Case can still sing to rip your roof off and make you like it (“Colossus of Rhodes”).