& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he fourth album from this Canadian indie super-group is pop-perfect. Mid-tempo songs and spot-on harmonies make Challengers utterly listenable. And that's the problem: The New Pornographers are pioneers of indie rock, not purveyors of background music and movie soundtracks. Their first album, Mass Romantic, got under your skin with gritty guitars and sharp-as-nails hooks. Challengers presents a more polished, less memorable sound.
Challengers attempts to reinvigorate the complex pop melodies by channeling psych rock on "Myriad Harbor," but that's just one track.
Maybe the band's mix of musical styles is wearing on them. Vocalist Neko Case brings alt-country; guitar player and songwriter Carl Newman and keyboardist Kathryn Calder bring harmony; and the six other members (including Destroyer's Dan Bejar) bring side projects ranging from '90s alt-rock to independent film. In trying to find a happy musical medium, this super-group ends up sounding mediocre.
-- PAIGE RICHMOND
DOWNLOAD: "All the Old Showstoppers"
Made in America
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hen 65 smaller-budget orchestras (including Coeur d'Alene's) combine financial forces so that a work with a title like Made in America (2005) can be performed in all 50 states, you might expect patriotic excess. But when Joan Tower fragments "America the Beautiful" into brief solos for violin or flute, the delicacy gets swallowed up by ominous passages in the horns. An industrial-power theme will surge, break into bits of anxiety, then find a respite in lulling strings; Tower expresses America's potential and fallibility both. As its name implies, Tambor (1998, also in its premiere recording here) is practically an extended drum solo for orchestra, with snare, timpani and rattle so prominent that even the strings take on percussive qualities. Concerto for Orchestra (1991) responds to Bartok's example, with the Nashville Symphony soloists (horn, cello, trumpets, violins and tuba) performing an interplay of quietness and tumult that accelerates like a locomotive.
-- MICHAEL BOWEN
DOWNLOAD: "Made in America"