The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers The New Pornographers formed in 1997, almost immediately recorded the classic "Letter From An Occupant," and it was on. Their three full-lengths (as well as Newman's 2004 solo debut The Slow Wonder) received wild critical and public acclaim, and they continue to enjoy bigger (and taller and smarter) audiences.

A.C. ("Carl") Newman, for all the good-times vibe of his band The New Pornographers, likes his alone time. Last year he disappeared from Vancouver without a word, reappearing four months later in Brooklyn, where he has stayed ever since. He resurfaced with a mystery scar, an extra blush to one cheek, and an armload of songs which tell tales of his last two years.

Challengers continues along the lines of 2005's Twin Cinema, whose "relative melancholy makes it the band's best album yet" [Blender]; indeed, the first track, "My Rights Vs. Yours," is almost a cross between that album's beloved "Use It" and "The Bleeding Heart Show". Dialing back the frantic, these are songs with dynamics and epic sweep. While it's still a "top-down summer power-pop classic" (or any variation thereof that the band's enjoyed over the last several years), this is something more personal, more lasting.

Recorded for the first time largely outside John Collins' Vancouver JC/DC Studio, Challengers is their most organic-sounding record, reflecting a conscious decision to use less "beepy synth" and almost entirely "real" instruments (in addition to those listed above, they recruited an entire string section, plus harp, flute, and more). And Newman is slightly more scrutable this time around; his lyrics still ring with wry perception and political metaphor, but betray some of the magnanimity that comes with new love - "our arms fill with miracles", he writes in "Go Places," his most beautiful love song since "My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism."