Posted by: Johnny Loftus on August 30, 2007 at 1:00 pm

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There’s something undeniably grand and organic about The New Pornographers, something in the mix of “Ooh-ahh”‘s and hand-claps, of falsetto cries and wandering lyrics, that has cemented this band’s privileged place high up in the pop stratosphere. Challengers is only more evidence of that. It marks The New Pornographers’ fourth proper album in a 10-year span. Mastermind A.C. Newman recently unveiled his “new empire in rags” and we have to assume it’s inspired by his new New York digs.

“Myriad Harbor’s” call-and-answer ode to the city begins with an impatient staccato (care of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar) announcing “I took a plane, I took a train,” while “Unguided” declares the disconnected sentiment “Why wait for the weakened state to lie next to the weaker sex?” The extravagant “All The Old Showstoppers” features a wiggly organ fading in and out.

Less electric than Electric Version, and less melancholy than Twin Cinema, Challengers finds the band in pure form. They’ve traded in some of the artificial bleeps and chirps for a dozen songs thick with strings, heavy with harmony and more engrossing than, well, a big box of porn. It’s been too damn long since they gave us “The Jessica Numbers” or “From Blown Speakers.” On Challengers, the non sequiturs and Neko Case’s “na na naaa” chime in as clear as a bell.

But then there’s the unexpected, too. Kathryn Calder breaks out from under Case’s daunting shadow to sing lead for the first time on “Failsafe” (remember, she owned at Pitchfork Festival), and out of nowhere comes the pulsing wave that is “All The Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth.” Despite its obscenely long title, the song could inspire a roller disco revival. Forget Xanadu. Olivia Newton-John is strapping her skates on right now, and the soundtrack is Challenger. — Ava Dial

New Pornographers, My Rights Versus Yours – Challengers LP

[audio:http://www.buyearlygetnow.com/mp3/the_new_pornographers_my_rights_versus_yours.mp3]

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