In a recent recording for NPR Music Live Sessions, The New Pornographers Perform 'Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile' at KUTX in Austin, Texas.

What happens when a nation that was born to run, and to rev engines into the wild frontier, runs into the full stop that is our current social and political climate? The answer, my friend, is somewhere “In the Morse Code of Brake Lights,” as The New Pornographers would have it on their eighth album. There’s a deep climatic unease running through these 11 tracks that’s matched only by the sheer musical glee with which the band addresses the prevailing mood of the moment. It’s an album in which foreboding and bliss somehow go hand in hand—mixing founder A.C. Newman’s nearly symphonic levels of pop arrangement and harmony with a careening quality that feels unsafe at any speed (to quote the famous Ralph Nader phrase that the opening track also borrows).

“Sometimes unintentional influences come in, and then after you start to notice them, you start consciously doing it,” says Newman. “I was about two-thirds of the way through the record when I began to notice that lyrically so much of it was pointing toward car songs. The opening track is ‘You'll Need a Backseat Driver,’ and that was a metaphor that seemed to be running through other songs, too. Next to the love song, I feel like the car song is one of the most iconic kinds of songs in pop music, from Chuck Berry to the present. There was so much of that throughout it that I started thinking: ‘Oh, no, there’s too many references to cars on this record!’ And then I thought, no, that's good—people might think it’s a concept album,” he laughs. “Let’s roll with that.” - Read more at NPR Music Live Sessions.

WGBH is a member and contributor to NPR Music Live Sessions, a music video platform of emerging and established rock and indie artists in collaboration with other NPR Music stations across the country.