Challengers

The New Pornographers. <i>Matador</i>.

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The fourth outing from A.C. Newman’s crew features more of the tinkly, anxious pop beloved by hip neurotics. Torn between the urge to create brainy art and a love for basic rock and roll, these itchy Canadians evoke early Roxy Music on the surging “All the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth” and take a pause from the tumult for “Unguided,” a surprisingly old-fashioned ballad that manages to soothe and unsettle at once. As usual, alt-country diva Neko Case drops by to sing a couple of Newman’s songs, projecting a calm self-assurance her pals lack. In “Go Places,” she observes, “A heart should always go one step too far,” underscoring the credo of this stirring—and exhausting—album.

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