The New Pornographers

Challengers (Matador)

Phases & Stages

The New Pornographers

Challengers (Matador)

The New Pornographers want you to put yer dukes up. After all, the Vancouver octet's previous two releases, 2003's Electric Version and Twin Cinema two years later, were equal parts menace and joie de vivre, coming out swinging and landing almost every indie-pop punch perfectly. Sadly, this fourth outing is far from a TKO. Instead, it's a 98-pound weakling wheezing against the ropes. Perhaps it's unfair to expect every New Pornographers album to be a kick in the pants. After all, A.C. Newman is a brilliant singer-songwriter, and his work here shows no diminishment. Challengers' glass jaw, then, is its sluggish instrumentation, its boots filled with lead while the lyrics and vocals – especially Ms. Neko Case's – strain to pick up the pace. The notable exceptions are "Myriad Harbour," a Pixies shout-out written by Dan Bejar (Destroyer), and "Mutiny, I Promise You," a tense little track that's ready to go 20 rounds.

**

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