After their 2005 Twin Cinema release, it was apparent that even as a pop super group, the New Pornographers were capable of modesty while still coming off as infectious and charming. Two years later, the pop spiral continues, except Challengers loses the modesty in a sugary carnival of contagious harmonies and swirling guitars. It’s done with a crafty brilliance that disguises a mature progression toward vintage three-part harmonies sung through a kaleidoscope of polished arrangements.
The Vancouver-based octet scores big here behind frontman A.C. Newman as he seduces audiences with a mélange of hooky nuggets that crescendo into unadulterated pop genius. “Myriad Harbour” is a metro rollick of harmonic complexities glossed with psychedelia. “All The Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth” has a rousing urgency that expands their usual sensibility with mellow instrumentation. “All The Old Showstoppers” recalls the climax-heavy Twin Cinema mixed with their more basic 2000 debut, Mass Romantic. And Neko Case leads the vocal charge on the alt-country title-track; it serves as a reminder to the necessity of the band’s all-inclusive nature.
Challengers works as a diverse collection of songs, but even more so as an almost infallible demonstration of maximum catchiness. (Jonathan Stumpf)
New Pornographers play the University Theatre Sunday, Oct. 14, at 8 PM. $25 plus fees.