Review by Roisin Corbett.
Whiteout Conditions is the seventh studio album by the Canadian super-group The New Pornographers, coming after a three year absence from the music scene. For the uninitiated, their music is mainly harmony driven power-pop, often reminiscent of their fellow Canadians, Arcade Fire.
This album is self-described as being like ‘going through a depressive episode’, and with lyrics like ‘Only want to get to work/But every morning I’m too sick to drive/Suffering whiteout conditions/Forget the mission, just get out alive’ from the album’s titular track, it isn’t hard to see why. The juxtaposition of lyrics such as these with the relatively upbeat instrumentals is simultaneously deceptive and vaguely jarring. I personally find the technique to be very interesting, as it gives the album a multi-layered nature.
‘Play Money’, the album’s opener, is a confident start. Both synth- and drum-heavy, it is immediately arresting, and Neko Case’s vocals weave masterfully between different layers of melody. This is followed by two of the strongest songs on the album, firstly the titular ‘Whiteout Conditions’ on which founder A. C. Newman takes the lead. Following this comes the album’s most commercially marketable track, the lead single ‘High Ticket Attractions’. It is easy to see why this song was selected as the album’s first single, as it is arguably the catchiest amongst this body of work. Quintessentially power pop, the song is once again synth driven and reliant upon harmonies, all packaged up in an under four minute, radio-friendly bundle.
However after this, at least in my opinion, things go slightly downhill. My main issue with this album is the lack of differentiation between tracks, and the arguable lack of hits. The band themselves describe the album as being ‘cohesive’, which I would agree with. However, I would argue that it is cohesive to a fault. After the first three songs, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between different tracks, and on the whole none of the songs are truly catchy, which is rather disappointing.
Despite this, there are still some high points. For me, the best song on the album is far and away its closer: ‘Avalanche Alley’. The song is the fastest on the album, and this makes a refreshing change. Although synths do play a role in this song, the frenetic drums are really the driving force, which again is a pleasant surprise. As a final song, this is an excellent choice. After spending the entire song building to a crescendo, the song abruptly ends, creating a very satisfying conclusion to the album.
On the whole, Whiteout Conditions does contain some good moments. It is pleasant enough to listen to, and is both lyrically and instrumentally very accomplished. However, as a complete body of work it is a little disappointing, particularly given the potential demonstrated in some of its songs. In my opinion, its attempt at cohesiveness is its downfall, as it is the songs that are a little bit different from the rest that truly shine.