‘Supergroups’ can often be a tedious proposition, if we take the term as its widely held – a vanity project that invariably features middle-aged multi-millionaire rock stars (already well past their artistic peak) getting together for an extended jamming session, then releasing the result as a half-assed concept album. In short: it’s never pretty.
The notion of the ‘indie supergroup’, however, is often a lot more exciting. It often seems to come with a built-in guarantee – the more ‘indie’ the credentials of the members (do they play in bands named after 19th century literary characters, for instance? Do they play in more than three bands at once? Have they released dozens of solo albums at the same rate Woody Allen churns out his yearly autumn movie? If you can answer yes to any of the above – bingo), the more eclectic and enthralling their output will be. Broken Social Scene are one such example, as are the subject of today’s BAMM Legends: Canadian indie-rock icons The New Pornographers.
Let’s just take a look at that line-up. Dan Bejar (Destroyer, Swan Lake, and Hello, Blue Roses), Kathryn Calder (solo artist, Immaculate Machine), Neko Case (solo artist, Maow, The Corn Sisters, and Cub), John Collins (The Evaporators, Destroyer), Kurt Dahle (Limblifter, Age of Electric), Todd Fancey, (Fancey, Limblifter), Carl Newman (A.C. Newman, Superconductor and Zumpano) and Blaine Thurier (independent filmmaker). You couldn’t find a bigger indie collective if you headed round the Pitchfork offices and lured the entire staff into a cage using delicious bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
But here’s the thing – one would expect that such a diverse, artistically-uncompromising bunch would create a sound that has limited mass appeal, if any at all. And that’s where you’d be wrong. Since their inception in 1999, The New Pornographers have been crafting catchy, melodic, smart and engaging indie-rock which sounds equally at home on sunny-day AM Radio as blasting out of a college dorm room.
Their five albums to date – including their finest moment, 2005’s ‘Twin Cinema’ – form an ongoing masterclass in indie songwriting, creating a sound so well-honed listeners would be forgiven for thinking it was the work of a close-knit Lennon/McCartney-style unit rather than a small village’s worth of musical influences (it is infact the case that Newman and Bejar write most of the songs, but the fact that the sessions emerge from such a seething melting pot is no less remarkable).
Despite having increased success (their last album reached no. 18 in the US charts, which hardly makes them an obscure prospect) they’re quite an easy band to overlook – never knowingly ‘showy’ or full of the pomposity the supergroup tag can often provoke. Worth discovering, though … possibly in one long, album-after-album session? Oh yeah.