Cargo Collective Title
Format: LP, Green & Blue Vinyl, Download code
Label: Merge Records
Cat no: MRG809LPC1
Over the past 20 years, The New Pornographers have proven themselves one of the most excellent bands in indie rock. The group’s ninth album and first for Merge establishes them alongside modern luminaries like Yo La Tengo and Superchunk when it comes to their ability to evolve while still retaining what made them so special in the first place. A dazzling and intriguing collection of songs, Continue as a Guest finds bandleader A.C. Newman and his compatriots Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, John Collins, Todd Fancey, and Joe Seiders exploring fresh territory and shattering the barriers of their collective comfort zone.
Newman began work on Continue as a Guest after the band had finished touring behind 2019’s In the Morse Code of Brake Lights. Themes of isolation and collapse bleed into this album, as Newman tackles the ambivalence of day-to-day life during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Newman says that Continue as a Guest’s title track also addresses the concerns that come with being in a band for so long. “The idea of continuing as a guest felt apropos to the times,” he explains. “Feeling out of place in culture, in society, being in a band that has been around for so long—not feeling like a part of any zeitgeist, but happy to be separate and living your simple life, your long fade-out. Living in a secluded place in an isolated time, it felt like a positive form of acceptance: find your own little nowhere, find some space to fall apart, continue as a guest.”
Newman discovered new vocal approaches within his own talent. There are new and rich tones to Newman’s voice throughout Continue as a Guest, from his dusky lower register over “Angelcover” to his slippery slide over the glimmering synths of “Firework in the Falling Snow,” to bold tones he embraces on the soaring “Bottle Episodes.” Another sonic change comes courtesy of saxophonist Zach Djanikian, whose tenor and bass luxuriate all over Continue as a Guest’s alluring chassis, especially on the menacing build of “Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies.”
Along with Newman’s usual collaborators, several songwriters contribute. The bursting opener and first single “Really Really Light” is a co-write with Dan Bejar (Destroyer, the New Pornographers). Then there’s “Firework in the Falling Snow,” a collaboration with Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13. “I was feeling like I wanted some help, so I sent it to Sadie and she sent me back this complete song that had these great lyrics,” Newman says. “She included the line ‘A firework in the falling snow,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ Sometimes you need that one thing to center the song, and even though I only used a few lines of hers in the end, I couldn’t have finished it without her.”
Even as Newman embraces a collaborative spirit more than ever, Continue as a Guest is a testament to his ability to discover new artistic sides of himself. “I started out as a songwriter more than as a singer, but at some point, you have to sing your own songs,” he says with a chuckle. “For a long time, I felt like the idea of changing a song because I couldn’t hit a note wasn’t okay - I could just get someone else to sing it. But I’m learning now that my songs can actually be a lot more malleable than I thought.” And it’s in that spirit that Continue as a Guest sounds like a thrilling path forward for The New Pornographers, with songs that generate a contagious feeling of excitement for the future as well.