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‘Challengers’ is the Rock Album of the Summer… better late than never

'Challengers' is the Rock Album of the Summer... better late than never

Ever since I befriended Canadian filmmaker Blaine Thurier, I’ve been able to receive early copies of new albums by his band, The New Pornographers. You would think I was incredibly ignorant and biased in how much I love the first three LPs from this Vancouver supergroup, but I have to say that they consistently churn out some of my favorite pop/rock albums. Each time a New Pornographers album arrives in my mailbox, I think “What will I say to Blaine, if I hate it?” Luckily, I’ve never had to worry. Their fourth LP, Challengers, arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. I took a deep breath and thought there was no way the band could top 2005’s Twin Cinema, an album I praised at great length on this very blog. With Challengers, they didn’t create a better album, per se. They created a finer album: a leaner and meaner rock record full of smarts and sparks. I will have a hard time thinking any other record will become my “rock album of Summer 2007” the way this one has.

Challengers is the sound of the New Pornographers at their most mature. The always-expansive group (there have never been fewer than six members) continues to grow, and band leader (and chief songwriter) Carl Newman has been very wise to embrace the collaboration. Challengers features some of their greatest meetings-of-the-minds, a stock of pop songs both radiant and dark at the same time. I could blog at length about how wonderful this album is, but that would be a waste of time that you could spend enjoying it for yourself. Matador Records releases it on August 21 in the U.S., and I promise that if you enjoy artists such as Elvis Costello, The Kinks, The Arcade Fire, Stars, or R.E.M., you will find something to love on Challengers. I’m so proud of Blaine and the band. They did the unthinkable: take a group of exceptional solo talent (Neko Case and Dan Bejar are among the members), and again offer us a record brimming with infectiously mesmerizing rock.

It may hit stores at the end of this summer, but as soon as you hear Challengers, you’ll wonder how you made it through June and July without it.

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