The New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions (2017) – Album Review

Whiteout Conditions (2017) is the most recent album from the Vancouver-native “alternative” pop/rock band, the New Pornographers. This is the band’s seventh studio album, and first to not feature long-term band members, Kurt Dahle and Dan Bejar. While the band has garnered a lot of popularity in Canada, and a few other places, they still find themselves regarded as more of an indie band. I myself had not listened to any of their music prior to this album, but had heard decent things, so I decided I would check it out.

Immediately I was reminded of another indie-pop/rock band, Best Coast, by both the vocals and the sorts of instrumentation used throughout. It’s very dancable music, but often laid back and not super in-your-face. The chords and beats are very pop, and the vocals include very catchy phrases, but it also sounds very similar, and there isn’t as much variety as some other bands in the indie scene.

I would categorize this more as a pop album than a rock album. The style of their music throughout is very reminiscent of some 80’s power-pop and synth-pop groups, with lots of electronic synthesizers, but with a little bit of rock and roll instrumentation as well. Drums and guitars are almost always present, among a flurry of other things surrounding them.

I did, however, often find myself frustrated with how they used these rock and roll instruments. Throughout the album, there are many songs which include these lo-fi, energetic guitar chords towards the beginning. Sometimes they would even bring in this slight element of funk along with them, but they were ALWAYS covered up immediately by something else, most often the synthesizers. This happens in songs like “Play Money,” “Darling Shade,” and “Colosseums.” The pattern followed suit pretty much the whole time though, exciting me at the beginning, and then immediately disappointing by watering down the sound, and not taking it anywhere. Another example is just a creative use of vocal samples as harmonies in the song “Second Sleep,” but they sort of devolve it from there and it doesn’t progress with the parts I enjoyed. The ideas were there, but trampled on most likely to make it more “pop” or “accessible?”

The creative minds once again left me somewhat disappointed with several similar endings to songs. The very first track, “Play Money,” fades out with this repetitive phrase “the song,” but another track does the same exact thing at the end (“We’ve Been Here Before”), and these little things often repeat themselves, getting rid of any stylistic/musical diversification. Also, with the track “We’ve Been Here Before,” it kind of acts like an interlude, highlighting the vocals by laying back on the instrumentals and almost making it void of anything else other than the two singers. This is an interesting idea on an album that I think needs more interesting ideas, but it also doesn’t really fit with anything else on the album. It’s more of just an awkward break in tempo to me, and it doesn’t compliment anything else that they’d done.

Vocally and lyrically, this album is pretty straightforward. I didn’t find myself connecting to any of the songs’ messages or points, and the vocals, while talent-filled, don’t really divert into new territory at any point during this album. The vocal range is somewhat large, and the duo of voices sound nice, but there’s once again no use of variation to give it any sudden energy.

This album is different than a lot of the popular music played on the radio nowadays, but it’s incredibly pop-heavy, very dancable, and sort of creates this “feel good” mood. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who like pop music also enjoyed this record. To me though, it showed a lot of promise during certain points in certain songs, but overall it just disappointed. Several ideas were there that I think weren’t executed on correctly. Super interesting instrumentals were destroyed, and emotional interludes were attempted, but it just didn’t have its place on the album as a whole. I can see that there’s definite talent and vision in the band members here, but I don’t think it was focused enough on this project to make something worthwhile. I’m thinking this is going to be a 4/10. It showed lots of potential, there are some catchy choruses, it can be a fun time, but nothing was super special or interesting. I was left more disappointed than impressed, and I did not see anything different enough to recommend it to someone. That being said, check it out, tell me what you think, and I look forward to doing more reviews! Stay tuned!

Favorite Track(s): “High Ticket Attractions”

Least Favorite Track(s): “Juke,” “We’ve Been Here Before”

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