A familiar, improving sound
By Chris Kompanek
Friday, October 26, 2012
A.C. Newman is best known as the frontman of the pop collective the New Pornographers. In recent years he has gone solo, putting out three albums in gap years between the band’s releases.
Newman’s latest, “Shut Down the Streets,” is his strongest to date. With Neko Case supplying backup vocals, it
almost feels like a New Pornographers
album. On opening track “I’m Not Talking,” Newman sings with an easy drawl about redemption and is backed by a New Age-sounding keyboard, acoustic guitar and trumpet. This counterpoint continues throughout the album, giving it an ethereal feel without becoming soft rock.
Newman puts his talent for writing hooks that sink deep into the soul on display in all 10 concisely constructed songs. The main hook in “Hostages” is delivered on an unlikely flute, while “Wasted English” poses a weighty question -- “Too much to lose or too little left to live for?” -- over a fleeting melody that drives home the dilemma. The standout “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns” carries as much anthemic weight as anything he has written.
Newman is one of a handful of singer-songwriters whose melodies have such a vivid pulse that it’s hard to stand still when listening. Those melodies can be played on the flute, trumpet or guitar, but they’re always delivered with a contagious joy.