2018 could well turn out to be the year Vancouver’s New Pornographers cement their place in the broader indie story. Although stylistically similar, Frontperson is largely free from the decorative embellishments favoured by Kathryn Calder’s former band mate Neko Case on her most recent release Hell On, the vocal interplay and almost familial close-knit harmonies of Frontrunner flourish against a more subtle backdrop of brass, strings and pipes, and inimitable maple-leaf folk style while retaining the multi-layered approach of the parent band. All in all, it is an interesting evolutionary branch as both artists take a different developmental twig.
For Frontperson, Calder (keyboardist and vocalist) has roped in Mark Andrew Hamilton (who has released six albums as Woodpigeon), forging a union between two of Canada’s most respected songwriters. The dual voices on opener ‘UOI’ are barely discernible at first, such is their compatibility, so rather than the big name collabs Case favours, it seems Calder and Hamilton have settled for a more ethical partnership that works on a purely musical basis. So, the full-fat folk of ‘Long Night’ is for fans of Stick In The Wheel with only occasional electronic concessions to the prog or alt. ethos.
Not content to settle into a comfortable furrow, the call and response of ‘Tick Tock’ with its upbeat outro might be in stark contrast to the introspective minor progressions of ‘He Follows Me’ but the latter’s eighties inflected harmonies and occasional piano tinkle pertain to a certain authenticity of spectral style. And it’s the gentler moments that stand out and highlight a striking fragility essential to such a simpatico musical relationship. So the pipes towards the end of the same track are a big moment while the modular loops and layers of melody are the clearest nod to Case, not to mention the sleek and imaginative production, but without losing the purity of the composition. Although worth pointing out the subject matter is all Hamilton twining tighter the symbiotic relationship the pair have.
Marrying a Carpenters-like tenderness with subtle but soaring choruses on binary pieces ‘Young Love’ and ’Shorter Days’ might sound manifest if it didn’t seem so natural like the whisper of the seasons changing. But variance is also Frontrunner’s friend. So, without losing any of its vocal cohesion on the darker ‘The City Is Mine’ and the tribal polyrhythms of ‘Postcards From A Posh Man’ the pair can also balance tales of frantic urban nights with a slightly sinister authority underneath the Utopian surface they created on the first half of this record; almost as if they are rewriting the ending as they go along.
As Frontrunner drifts to a suitably introspective conclusion, you can’t help feel a little underwhelmed in the face of the stiff competition the duo are up against this year which is no fault of their own and not necessarily a bad thing. Calder and Hamilton have created a lovely authentic piece of modern folk music and it would be unfortunate if it was to be lost in the genre-pool of similar releases.
Frontrunner is released on 21st September through Oscar St. Records.