The New Pornographers Are Far from Fading on 'Continue as a Guest'

BY Ian GormelyPublished Mar 29, 2023

The New Pornographers exist in a permanent liminal state; neither of the culture nor apart from it, primary songwriter A.C. Newman has occasionally tapped into the zeitgeist in the band's 23 years, though that seems more by accident than design. 

It's a status of which the group appear acutely aware — the title of their ninth album, Continue as a Guest, is a nod to their place on the periphery and the first to directly address the band's mortality: "It's a sun / It's gonna set / This isn't quantum shit," sings Newman on the title track. Yet the record's content — 10 tracks that neither deviate from nor completely retread what they've done before — would suggest that there's little concern within the sextet about changing that. "I don't even need a room," he continues, "just want the view, that's it." 

Continue as a Guest picks up on the beats-and-synths sound that drove 2017's snappy Whiteout Conditions. Yet where that album saw Newman and Co. dabbling with syncopation, here the band is moving as one unit, deepening the music's groove. 

A lot of the New Pornographers appeal is the sugar rush that comes with the music. That's not to say that their songs are surface-level or lose their potency overtime — far from it. But this is the first of their records that seems to want listeners to marinate in the vibe, if only for one quick moment, before moving on to the next three-minute dopamine hit. 

As usual, Newman handles the bulk of the songwriting, penning eight of the record's songs. Opener "Really Really Light" was a co-written, but not co-performed, by erstwhile member Dan Bejar, who's been mostly absent of late (He did take part in the group's anniversary tours for Mass Romantic and Twin Cinema last year, so one assumes everyone's on good terms). Meanwhile, Speedy Ortiz/Sad13's Sadie Dupuis helped write the airy "Firework in the Falling Snow." 

The record's secret weapon, though, is saxophone player Zach Djanikian, whose unshowy contributions across the album add new textures, particularly on "Cat and Mouse with the Light." Along with newfound vocal dexterity from Newman, Djanikian helps lend the record a greater sense of sonic adventurousness than their previous outing, the wholly Newman written In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

The band's place as a decades-running outlier is far more blessing than curse. Often described as some combination of indie rock and power pop, those broad descriptors obscure Newman and his compatriots' deep well of musical reference points — there is seemingly no guitar-centric sound someone in the band doesn't have some familiarity with, and that's given them a wide sandbox to pull from. 

Even while the New Pornographers have an immediately recognizable sound, you can't really call any one album a retread of another. They're all good — many great — and each one somehow tweaks or branches off from the sound of the previous one. That pattern includes Continue as a Guest, which once again finds enough twists and turns to ward off "the long fade out" that Newman hints at in the title track. 
(Merge Records)

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