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The New Pornographers 

Challengers (Matador)

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The New Pornographers rarely grab listeners the first time around. Even after two or three spins, their songs don't reveal that much -- a tiny hook here, a slight turn of phrase there. Challengers, their fourth album, is no different. At first, it sounds like a solid if not particularly melodic set of songs. But then it grasps with such force, you'll wonder how you initially overlooked its sway.

Challengers is indeed a more challenging record than the Canadian group's previous albums. It's a bit more meditative and complex than 2005's relatively straightforward Twin Cinema. Its best song, the slow-building "My Rights Versus Yours," is erected atop a sequence of abstract words and a vaguely British lilt circa 1977. The Pornographers even get epic on the six-minute "Unguided," in which frontman A.C. Newman contemplates his recent move to Brooklyn.

Their most famous member, Neko Case, plays a relatively supporting role on Challengers, checking in with only one stellar solo showcase: the lovely "Go Places." But as their individual personalities give way to the bigger picture -- check out the closing "The Spirit of Giving," where all eight Pornographers truly band together -- the appeal is obvious from the start.

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