A.C. Newman Ranks the 5 Best New Pornographers Songs

Including two title tracks and "a song of ours that I don't think gets enough love"

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 28, 2023

The New Pornographers were never really supposed to last. As a collective made up of musicians from other projects — notably including alt-country star Neko Case and Destroyer leader Dan Bejar — they initially had no ambitions for the project beyond finishing their first album, 2000's Mass Romantic.

"The light at the end of the tunnel was just finishing the [debut] record," bandleader A.C. Newman told Exclaim! last year." It wasn't even the record coming out. It was just: let's get to the end so the record is done. I had no delusions beyond that."

Even as members of the Vancouver-based band scattered across the continent, the New Pornographers continued their rise to become a mainstay of the indie rock world. This was for one reason: the strength of their songs. Their giddy power pop anthems are undeniable, from the fast-charging rock bangers of their early work to their subsequent experimentation with baroque acoustic balladry and synth-driven arpeggiator grooves.

Their ninth album, Continue as a Guest, arrives on March 31 via their new label home of Merge Records, marking the latest instalment in their remarkably consistent career. Like so many artists in recent years, the New Pornographers recorded it amid pandemic lockdowns — but unlike most other indie rock bands, working remotely is nothing new for them.

"I moved to NYC in 2005," Newman tells Exclaim! "Neko has always lived in different places. The band has always been spread across the country, the continent, occasionally the world. Trying to get us all together is and has always been part of the program. It is our fate."

To mark the release of Continue as a Guest, Exclaim! asked Newman to rank the five best songs from the band's remarkably consistent catalogue. The songwriter resisted the urge to simply pick five songs by Bejar, instead selecting standout cuts that span eras, albums, styles and singers.

He explains, "My criteria for picking songs? It's a combination of judging the song by its own merits and also my personal attachment to it. Some songs just make me nostalgic and remind me of what I like about being in the band. I've also found that I have to agree with fans, for the most part. If they love it, it makes me love it more."

Read about Newman's five favourite New Pornographers songs below, including two title tracks, a fan-favourite banger that Bejar wrote about him, and "a song of ours that I don't think gets enough love." Unlike most people who participate in our High 5 column, he didn't choose anything from his new album.

5. "Mass Romantic"
Mass Romantic (2000)

It's got that shuffle beat, that ka-chunka-ka-chunka guitar, the weird little synth lines, the run-on sentence melody. Coming out of the gate, first song, first album, it felt like a declaration of intent, and it was exactly that. Only now, over 20 years later, do I realize that we had something kind of special there.

4. "Brill Bruisers"
Brill Bruisers (2014)

This one feels like the platonic ideal of a New Pornographers track. The first song on my favourite album of ours. Simple, hard hitting, big big vocals. A good example of "the medium is the message," it's about both the joy of song and the joy of searching for it.

3. "This Is the World of the Theatre"
Whiteout Conditions (2017)

This is a song of ours that I don't think gets enough love. A great Neko lead vocal, and I just love the way it moves. I was going for a kind of Squeeze "Annie Get Your Gun" vibe, with the combination of synth and acoustic. I also love the harmony vocals on this one.

2. "Myriad Harbour"
Challengers (2007)

I could easily pick five Bejar songs for this list, but I'll try not to be too self-deprecating. There is something uniquely loose and fun about this song that makes it stand out — not just from other New Pornographers songs, but from Destroyer as well. He knew I'd just moved to NYC, so he wrote a weird little fictional take on the journey, where he, John Collins and I are characters. [This is] another big fan favourite that is a joy to sing when we can get Bejar on stage with us.

1. "The Bleeding Heart Show"
Twin Cinema (2005)

This one just encapsulates a lot of what we were trying to do in the band, what I was trying to do as a songwriter. It unfolds slowly, it adds parts — a kind of slow burn until it takes off into a big singalong ending. Plus, it has some of our best harmony singing. It's become one of our most beloved and popular songs and that makes me like it even more. Positive reinforcement.

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