A weirdly wonderful collision of old-fashioned power-pop and avant-garde gestures, the music of The New Pornographers doesn't so much balance its component parts as throw them all together and let whatever's going to happen, happen. The band began as a side trip for a handful of Vancouver musicians, and it's turned into a much bigger projectby indie-rock standards, at leastthan any of them probably imagined. The New Pornographers' third album, Twin Cinema, reassembles the sprawling collective to produce A.C. Newman's oddly flavored bubblegumand, for three tracks, the space-rock visions of Destroyer frontman and studio-only member Dan Bejar. Along the way, the band brings in unexpected harmonies, as acoustic guitars mingle with pulsing drumbeats. The choruses always swell, but they sometimes don't hit until the songs have progressed through little suite-like elements. (Maybe that's the Wings influence Newman has talked about.) It's strange, and that's to say nothing of the lyrics, which only sound like they make sense.
Put together, it sounds like a blast of pure pop from somewhere beyond the stars. Twin Cinema doesn't so much vary its predecessors' formula as crawl inside it. As the album-opening title track reveals from the start, much of Electric Version's propulsion remains, but there's also a greater emphasis on slow-burning tracks and unexpected U-turns. "The Bleeding Heart Show," for instance, has both, starting modestly, then veering into an extended, transcendent coda anchored by a "hey la" chorus and all-star guest vocalist Neko Case. But one of the album's quietest moments, "These Are The Fables," gives Case her best moment, bringing her talent for smoky torch singingwell-documented elsewhereinto the New Pornographers' universe. That's a place odd enough to accommodate both Bejar's "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras" (a sequel to Mass Romantic's "Jackie") and "Stacked Crooked," a mini-epic of layered vocals and mariachi trumpets that brings the album to a close with the suggestion that The New Pornographers' next adventures might head into even more peculiar territory, no doubt creating sing-along songs every step of the way.