The New Pornographers

Challengers (Matador Records)

The New Pornographers have a leg up on most groups, in that two of their members are accomplished solo artists: Neko Case has her alt-country thing, and Dan Bejar has Destroyer, his retro-weirdo Bowie thing. Together with New Porns' principal A.C. Newman, they make near-perfect power-pop albums, culminating with 2005's Twin Cinema. But the act's latest effort, Challengers, mostly sidesteps those pop arrangements, dealing instead in slower, meandering ennui. Which is exactly what bogs the album down: It's hard to tell how much each player is invested at this point. While Bejar proves to be dependably wry and intellectual in ways that are familiar to any of his fans, Case sounds bored a lot of the time, especially on "Mutiny, I Promise You," even more so on the duet "All the Old Showstoppers," in which she and Newman both sound pretty listless. The song itself seems to be an echo of the band's past, but with a noticeably slower tempo that drags—which is indicative of most of the tunes here.

 
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