It Holds Up: The New Pornographers – ‘Electric Version’

The New Pornographers are a foundational band for me. They are one of the first bands that I found outside of the radio and MTV. I found them, how I find everything now, online. It might have been on Emusic, it might have been on some niche music forum, and I probably downloaded this album illegally using Napster or Kazaa late on a Saturday night when no one else was using the family PC. I can still hear the whirring sound of the album being burned onto a blank CD, hoping the noise wouldn’t wake up my little sister, who was little enough to have a bedtime on the weekends. I was most certainly still scanning for more information about this Canadian band and waiting for the CD to be finished when my Dad came home at 2:30 in the morning from his night shift as mailer and machine worker at our local newspaper. I’m sure that night, like every Saturday night when I felt the freedom of no bedtime and the peace of a quiet house, he came in and hugged me before trying to wash the ink off of his calloused hands. Then he would ask me what I was doing, and we would talk about music until the whirring stopped and I kissed him good night. 

A few years later, Electric Version was one of the albums I made the guy I was dating listen to. I knew The New Pornographers would win him over with their catchy hooks and anthemic choruses. From the drums that kick off “The Electric Version” to the last chorus of the sing-a-long pop gem of “Miss Teen Wordpower” I saw him go from a person in love trying to like everything the other one likes to a genuine fan of the band. We bought every album that we could get our hands on and listened to them on our adventures and late into the night until I absolutely had to say goodnight and get out of his car to go inside. Eventually, we couldn’t say goodnight anymore. So we got married.

We were young, maybe too young for some, but it didn’t matter. We put New P (our nickname for them) songs on our wedding playlist. We danced around our bedroom to “All For Swinging You Around”, admiring Neko Case’s pure singing voice and the power pop riffs. We sang the outro to “Out From Blown Speakers” as loud as we could. We looked up the lyrics to “The Laws Have Changed” because we couldn’t tell if they were singing “fellow” or “pharaoh” (it’s the latter). We harmonized to the no’s on Dan Bejar’s “Testament to Youth in Verse.” We marveled at the perfect balance struck on this album between the 3 pillars of the band: A.C. Newman, Neko Case, and Dan Bejar,(and mourned when Bejar became less involved). We aggressively bopped our heads to the hardest song on the album, “It’s Only Divine Right ” as it ended in an explosion of shredding guitars and shattering drums. We dove into A.C.’s unique lyricism and fantastic ability to create characters. We saw them live and bounced ecstatically and shouted “like a bat of hell” with everyone else in the packed room as they played one of Bejar’s best songs ever, “Ballad of a Comeback Kid,” then laughed when A.C. Newman quipped “did I mention he’s an alcoholic?” as Bejar left the stage. We are finally going to see them again in Cincinnati next week, and while I will miss Bejar’s songs and the way his voice can lounge on top of the music or be a bullet through a verse, I am excited to feel the joy that is their live shows again.

Electric Version is one of the best power pop albums of all time. Every member of the large, collaborative entity that is The New Pornographers were firing on all cylinders, and the result is both a classic piece of indie history and a timeless collection of sounds that are still inspiring artists and bands who found them the same way I did. My husband and I have been together almost our entire adult lives, and The New Pornographers have been a constant part of our soundtrack. Not just because of nostalgia, but because they make music that transcends time and trends. It has been 20 years, and Electric Version still comes out magical.

Jami Fowler | @audiocurio

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