The Perfection of Power Pop
Get giddy with A.C. Newman’s latest
by Molly Templeton
It took about two weeks for me to stop hearing New Pornographers songs in my head every time I thought of A.C. Newman. It’s not necessarily that Carl Newman’s other band’s songs are that much catchier, but I’ve known them longer. Newman’s second solo album, Get Guilty, needs time to settle in, to sink its hooks into a melody-absorbing place in your mind near where those unforgettable New Pornos tunes hang out. There’s no small amount of overlap between the two bands’ sounds: The dense, precise pop songwriting, the female harmonies (some provided by Mates of State’s Kori Gardner), the occasional oddball lyrics, a slightly (but cheerfully) frantic sense of exuberance and, over it all, Newman’s perfectly accessible voice.
Newman’s giddy, graceful songs, which leap through the decades for musical references, sound as if they sprung fully-formed into being despite their intricacies. It’s a strange appearance of ease; the backing vocals sound as if they’re there because the singers were simply inspired to sing along, but at the same time, they’re a vital piece of each song’s structure. On “Young Atlantis,” which opens with one of the album’s most beautiful and quietest melodies, Newman leads his miniature choir as they echo his vocals and then sweep into a wordless chorus of “ah”s before giving way to a gorgeous winding-down that ends even more quietly than it began. Get Guilty changes dynamics with breathtaking grace; the next track, “The Collected Works,” is percussive and bossy, and “All of My Days and All of My Days Off” shifts again, closing out the record on a sweet and Shins-y note.
Every song on Get Guilty is deserving of its own analysis, a bit of picking at the lyrics, which throw up snippets of imagery like a stuttering projector on a brick wall. Just the titles often sound like short films yet to be shot (“Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer”). But sometimes, it’s the songs with the least decipherable lyrics that snag. “I carried it quietly over the wall / there were too many prophets there” is all that sinks in of the rising, fantastic “Prophets.”
Still, one key line stands out: “Lady, would you call it art?” Newman asks on “The Palace at 4 A.M.,” Get Guilty’s first single. Well, of course.
A.C. Newman, Dent May and His Magnificent Ukulele. 7 pm Sunday, March 1. John Henry’s. $10 adv., $12 door. 21+ show.