"The Slow Wonder"
"Out of the Shadow"
The rationale for the rock solo album is that it reveals unexpected facets of its creator, aspects that were submerged or suppressed by the band format. Of course, that's rarely the case. Most solo albums are more like A.C. (aka Carl) Newman's charming but well-precedented "The Slow Wonder."
It's a collection of 11 songs that could very well have fit on the next disc by Newman's full-time band, the New Pornographers.
A Vancouver resident, Newman has staked Canada's claim to the bouncy, fizzy, mildly quirky style of pop rock associated with such California cult bands as Game Theory. His songs are brisk, unfailingly tuneful and far from earthy: They're delivered in high tenor and falsetto, and embroidered with piano, brass and string accents that stop just short of being fussy. The tunes, textures and rhythms are the message -- who knows what the words to such numbers as "Most of Us Prizefighters" and "The Town Halo" are about?
What matters is the sense of giddy dislocation that arrives with each rapturous chorus or off-kilter bridge. When Newman entreats, "Christine, come crash on my floor," the spiraling riff that follows is an invitation to swoon.
From the same label that released the Shins' "Chutes Too Narrow," Rogue Wave's "Out of the Shadow" sounds a little familiar. The two groups' styles of easygoing but hook-smart folkie-rock do resemble each other, yet "Shadow" wasn't modeled on "Chutes." In fact, it was released first, back in 2002, by Zach Rogue (formerly Zach Schwartz) himself. Recently reissued by Sub Pop, the album is a sparkling addition to the company's post-grunge roster.
Rogue Wave is now a San Francisco area quartet, but this album was recorded solo by Rogue in Woodstock, N.Y., assisted by co-producer Bill Racine and a few part-timers. Rogue's acoustic guitar and sometimes multi-tracked tenor are featured, highlighted by both synth and steel guitar. Although the music's influences are sometimes conspicuous, notably on the Neil Young-like "Falcon Settles Me," Rogue's melodic flair and cantering rhythms are enough to differentiate such tunes as "Kicking the Heart Out." This is an auspicious debut from a band that hadn't even gotten started -- literally -- at the time it was made.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat with the Neins. * To hear a free Sound Bite from A.C. Newman, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8128; to hear Rogue Wave, press 8129. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)