CD Review of Get Guilty by A.C. Newman
A.C. Newman: Get Guilty
Recommended if you like
Shins, Death Cab For Cutie,
New Pornographers
Label
Matador
A.C. Newman: Get Guilty

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

T
he New Pornographers have always been a curious sort of combo. More a loose conglomerate than a stable ensemble, the membership is often as fluid as a waterfall in a windstorm. Their motif has been equally difficult to define, ranging from a variation of loose Americana to a sound best described as left-of-center pop. So it would stand to reason, then, that when their singer takes a sojourn and ventures out on his own, the resulting album would offer a bit more clarity…accompanied, perhaps, by a more immediate accessibility.

Well, it doesn’t, actually. A.C. Newman’s second solo album possesses the same ambiguity of his parent organization, its dense arrangements, quirky choruses and unlikely sources of inspiration defying any notion of pedestrian pop. Happily, though, that’s not a bad thing, and ultimately, it’s that intrigue and inspiration which makes Get Guilty more than a guilty pleasure, and, to be sure, one of the more interesting efforts of the year so far. The hooks aren’t always so obvious – this isn’t an album ready-made for radio – but there is the promise of an eventual embrace, a sense that it harbors something truly distinctive, and that further listening is not only imperative, but a plus. Suffice it to say, it stands with the best of the New Pornographers’ collective efforts thus far and that Newman’s name deserves to be hoisted as high as that of the group’s most famous alumni, Neko Case in particular.

The album makes a stirring start with the unlikely "There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve," an instant statement that aims high and soars appropriately. Newman effectively varies the tempo throughout, from the percolating pulse of "The Heartbreak Rides" to the plodding deliberation of "Young Atlantis." Mostly, though, he aims for a giddy sort of effusiveness, galloping his way through the infectious "The Palace at 4 AM," offering up a hearty sway via "Elemental," mining a ‘60s sensibility on "All of My Days and All of My Days Off" and rallying for a romp with "Submarines of Stockholm." And while he often tackles themes that seem somewhat esoteric – Polynesian hang-outs, underwater vessels, renegade gods, losers, outcasts, and classic films – the vibrant harmonies, robust refrains and irresistible thrust of these melodies make each of these songs succeed.

Whether or not Newman chooses to elevate his stature and go it alone remains to be seen; after all, the New Pornographers have secured an admirable reputation over the past dozen years or so. On the other hand, should he opt to break away, any guilt he’d get ought to be negligible at best.

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