The New Pornographers “In the Morse Code of the Brake Lights” (Concord / Collected Works ***)
At this point in their career, the New Pornographers aren’t trying to surprise us. The Carl Newman-led collective can crank out reliably thrilling power pop and galloping, densely arranged rock, and only needs to compete with its own past. “In the Morse Code of the Brake Lights,” its eighth album, is another predictably strong set, with a few new variations and innovations.
Neko Case’s powerhouse voice dominates the album more than usual: She shines brightly on “You’ll Need a Backseat Driver” and “Colossus of Rhodes,” and she compensates for the absence of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, who is sadly AWOL for the second album in a row. The synths that anchored 2017’s “Whiteout Conditions” take a backseat to ELO-inspired string arrangements, especially on “Leather on the Seat.” Over the course of the album, the typically cryptic lyrics return to car metaphors and glimpses of political anger, most overtly on the surprisingly profane “Higher Beams.” A few songs, such as “Opening Ceremony,” never quite kick into high gear, but others, such as piano-driven “Need Some Giants,” rank with the Pornographers’ best. It’s remarkable that after nearly 20 years, Newman and company continue to thrill. —Steve Klinge
JPEGMAFIA “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” (EQT *** 1/2)
The title “experimental rapper” usually means that the resulting hip-hop is antiseptic, overly precious and sweatless. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth when it comes to Baltimore-based Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, otherwise known as JPEGMAFIA. The rapper is keen to zealously and loudly mix things up in a messy collage of noisy samples, lo-fi guitars, and industrial rhythms. JPEGMAFIA’s sophomore effort, “All My Heroes Are Cornballs,” pushes the needle that much farther into the red, while blossoming into something alluringly accessible.
Like a Suicide album and a Wu-Tang Clan album had a baby, “All My Heroes Are Cornballs” unfurls with discordant tones balanced by haunting, quieter passages and dark, poetic politicized humor. When he’s not yearning to be a black man adopted by Madonna (“Dots Freestyle Mix”), barking about rednecks (“Papa I Missed You”) or declaring war on the slums he left behind (“Post Verified Lifestyle”), JPEGMAFIA finds softer, soulful sounds and a twist in gender politics in “Thot Tactics.” —A.D. Amorosi
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