I Almost Prayed in Albuquerque: Twin Cinema

In Summer 2007, I drove from San Diego to Cooperstown for Tony Gwynn’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is Part 4 of a nine-part series covering the first day of my journey.

Meanwhile, the radio signal had started to fade (or the brassy horn arrangements had started to grate — can’t remember which), so I popped in another CD. The New PornographersTwin Cinema easily makes my top five albums of the 21st century, and its quirky, punchy tunes would help me endure the flat drive to Gila Bend.

A Canadian supergroup of sorts, the New Pornographers are headed by Carl Newman, whose hypnotic hooks saturate this album. Deft drumwork and penetrating vocal harmonies complement the compositions, as do vocals by the somewhat out-of-control Dan Bejar (of Destroyer fame) and the decidedly in-control Neko Case.

The band draws comparisons to Cheap Trick, and there are similarities in terms of arrangements and overall sound. Newman also claims to be influenced by Burt Bacharach (“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”), Jimmy Webb (“MacArthur Park,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” — his book Tunesmith is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in composing popular music), and ex-Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

Twin Cinema is solid, top to bottom. Tunes like “Use It” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno” will stick in your head for days, and yet, because they are so well constructed, you won’t want to blow your head off because of it. The album features a balance between those up-tempo songs and moodier, introspective pieces.

The album delivers some serious treats for music geeks as well. I let out an involuntary gasp the first time I heard the arpeggiated major seventh chord in the prechorus of “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras.” That sort of thing just isn’t done in popular songs.

As the tunes flowed, towns whizzed past — dots connecting something larger to form a complete picture. Places with names like Wellton, Tacna, Mohawk, and finally Gila Bend (“crossroads of the southwest”), where I hung a left onto Arizona State Route 85.

Gila Bend is named after the Gila River, a tributary of the Colorado that flows southwest from New Mexico and terminates near Yuma. The town was founded in 1872, is home to roughly 2000 people, and has been celebrated in song by veteran Los Angeles band Los Lobos, who lament that “it’s a long, long way to Gila Bend.” Having passed through there several times, I can affirm the truth of this statement from pretty much any point on any map.

Between Gila Bend and Buckeye, there isn’t much out there. Old US-80 runs parallel to the newer state highway, passing through Cotton Center, Arlington, Hassayampa, and Palo Verde, before meeting back up in Buckeye. Along SR-85, though, there’s just the Sonoran Desert National Monument off to the east and an occasional road that crosses for no apparent reason. Headlights are mandatory even in daylight, possibly to help keep drivers of oncoming cars from falling asleep.

Just before reaching I-10, the road passes Lewis Prison, which means signs advising motorists against picking up hitchhikers. If you ever find yourself tempted, just remember that all seven housing units at Lewis are named after correctional officers killed in the line of duty. If you’re still not sure, then consider that Lewis’ primary claim to fame is a 2004 standoff between inmates and officers that lasted 15 days. Hostages, fires, all kinds of good stuff…

Right. Keep driving.