Album Review: A.C. Newman – Get Guilty

[Matador; 2009]

It’s easy to take a musician like Carl Newman for granted. He is the linchpin of beloved power-pop outfit The New Pornographers, but is within that framework at times overshadowed by the more enigmatic “secret member” Daniel Bejar and alt. country goddess Neko Case, whose respective solo ventures arguably carry more clout than Newman’s Zumpano pedigree. With many wonderful records to his name, Newman yet lacks the singular masterpiece that defines a career. Nevertheless, throughout the past decade, Newman has quietly proved himself to be one of indie pop’s most dependable auteurs, and continues the trend with his second album under the solo “A.C.” moniker, Get Guilty.

It’s hard to escape drawing comparisons to The New Pornographers, which has grown from “supergroup” side project to the most recognizable outlet for any of the members’ songs. On Guilty, there is little in the way of substantial shifts in Newman’s craft since the last time we heard from him. Songs like “My Rights Versus Yours” and “All The Old Showstoppers” serve as good reference points for what to expect, though that’s not to suggest stagnation. If anything, Guilty finds Newman honing his abilities, bringing them into sharper focus. A good handful of tracks found here best many of Newman’s tracks from Challengers, most primarily album closer “All Of My Days And All Of My Days Off,” which carries a natural epic sweep that the useless bloat of “Unguided” strove for but couldn’t achieve.

This is far from a quiet record, but absent is the sugar-rush enthusiasm that characterizes a lot of Newman’s best known songs. The instrumentation is far more lush and a bit more subtle (indeed, Newman credits himself for “keyboards here and there” in the liners) than the bright synthesizers and electric guitars that typify most of the Pornos catalog. Take, for instance, the verses in opener “There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve,” which float along on mellotrons, maracas, and acoustic guitar. It’s a more organic sound. The record is not without its share of fist-pumpers, though; kinetic rocker and highlight “The Palace At 4 A.M.” wouldn’t sound all that out of place on The Electric Version with some fuzzed up guitars and Kurt Dahle behind the drum kit, and “The Changeling,” with it’s instantly memorable, shouted chorus of “Change your mind!” It may not be clear about what, but it’s all very exciting nonetheless.

So while this isn’t a world-conquering masterwork, it is another record Carl Newman should be proud to have to his name. It’s enough to make us thankful that he so consistently pumps out songs of such caliber. It’s a warm, eminently listenable record that at this very early juncture sounds like it could be one of the more notable records of 2009.