A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Carl Newman’s solo efforts have always felt like placeholders. The songs were there, but his arrangements had the whiff of demos, the workshopping of ideas being fleshed out for the next New Pornographers album.

Until now. Maybe it was Dan Bejar’s Destroyer breakthough, giving Newman two sidekicks whose stars threatened to eclipse that of his core brand, that spurred him to up his solo game. Or perhaps it was the downtime created by his newly adopted upstate New York home, where he hunkered down to raise a child. Whatever the reason, Shut Down the Streets sounds nothing like a side project.

The progression from outings like 2009’s Get Guilty is immediately apparent on opener “Not Talking” and its flute-driven hook, the most exquisite slice of baroque pop since Belle and Sebastian hired a publicist. In place of the Pornos’ glammy maximalism, on Streets Newman aims for hurts-so-good minor chord miracles – and his dagger hits its target with surprising regularity. Newman gets a big assist from Neko Case, his longtime cohort and now a co-conspirator in bucolic northeastern escape (she’s put down roots in Vermont). Fans of Ms. Case take note – although there are no lead vocals to her name, Neko’s prominent harmonies are unmistakable and conjure even more than her usual share of magic.

It’s easy enough to picture “Hostages” and especially “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns” being recast as New Pornographers material with a few extra layers of guitars, but Newman never allows the mix to get that dense. If anything, he’s reaching back to scratch the Zombies itch that characterized his pre-Porno band Zumpano. For evidence look no further than the banjo and clarinet-driven “Strings.”

Fatherhood hasn’t squelched his acerbic wit, however. On a heartfelt ballad to his infant son, the most essential counsel Newman can think to impart is that there’s “Money in New Wave.” Now more than a decade removed from accidentally proving that point with Mass Romantic, Carl (A.C.) Newman sounds just as unconcerned with bankability – and it suits him just fine.

A.C. Newman
Shut Down the Streets