Get Guilty – A.C. Newman

Get Guilty

A.C. Newman

2009

Matador

 

Phrases that Carl (who goes by the initials A.C.) Newman has forced me to sing with uncontrollable exuberance: “Sing me Spanish techno”, “Sound of God is the screech of tires”, and“The truth in one free afternoon, a new empire in rags”.  Obviously, Newman can write any lyrics down that he wants (whether they make sense or not) and I’ll be his willing backup singer in my car, no matter what.  Hell, he could write a song about murdering one’s parents and I’d gladly be singing his words.

Get Guilty is Newman’s second solo album.  For a guy who’s in the indie supergroup (yes, they are a supergroup, I don’t care what you say) The New Pornographers, who have released four albums since 1999, Newman is extremely prolific.  This solo record could pass off easily as a New Porno’s album, just without Dan Bejar or Neko Case.  It’s got his major hooks, his convoluted arrangements, and his admirable lyrics.

Album opener “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve” sounds more perceptive than it actually is, even breaking the fourth wall (a rarity for song lyrics, admittedly).  It is a perfect first song, letting the listener ease into the album with a strange kind of tenderness, as the lyrics (“Once there was a haunted loop of your deep, fallen tears”) leave an open ended interpretation into the song.  The music too, is of considerable weight, with single notes pounding after each “Make of that what you will”. 

“The Heartbreak Rides” shows off Newman’s adeptness at song composition.  It has a sort of push-pull tension, with background guitars feedbacking in the beginning hinting at a bigger sound that comes in.  The buildup is done perfectly, behind the second chorus, resulting in a winding melody and even brass instruments.  Still, it’s a rather laid-back song compared to some others.

“Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer” is one of the best songs on the album.  The whole song counts as a giant melodic hook, and even has a strange rhythm that only Newman can pull off.  The female harmonies (even on his solo album, Newman has a penchant for using feminine background vocals) are excellent, with Nicole Atkins contributing to the overall effect.  A fractured guitar solo leads the song into completely breaking down, making the listener wondering what happened.  That is until the convoluted rhythm comes back in.  Overall, this song definitely adds (more) quality to his repertoire.

The fourth song, although not nearly as cool as “Hitman”, again has another push-pull arrangement.  Newman is great at writing songs where the different parts contrast with each other, making a very satisfactory feeling.  “Prophets” has another catchy melody (“Strike on, zero!”).

However, this leads into another of the best songs on the album, “Submarines of Stockholm”.  After a short, quiet intro, another great hook digs its way into the audience’s mind.  And although Newman is a distinguished lyricist, he’s still not above using “Na Na Nana”’s to develop his song.  These lead into a cool, slower part, “Stop! It was one in a series of”, until, of course, the obvious “Go!” kicks back into the song. I dare you to try and get this song out of your head.

“Thunderbolts” is a decent song, but probably the weakest on Get Guilty.  The melody doesn’t work that well, and is rather dull actually.  It’s a slower song, that just doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere.  It definitely won’t warrant more than a one or two listens. 

The first single off of the album, “The Palace at 4 AM” is a decent song, but not one of my favorites.  Strangely, but not badly, Newman’s voice has a lot of reverb, making him sound distant.  But the song does have its really cool moments, as Newman plays with the language (“No more pushing words around”).

“The Changeling (Get Guilty)” brings another laid-back, relaxed mood.  It’s one of the few piano-driven songs on the album.  As always, Newman does have his tricks, with the chanting chorus of “Change Your Mind” making it another sing-along type song.

Both “Elemental” and “Young Atlantis” offer decent ballad-type songs.  Newman sounds heartwarming, but they lack the power-pop attitude expected of him.  Which isn’t to say they’re bad songs, just rather throwbacks to his last album, the mainly acoustic The Slow Wonder.

“The Collected Works” brings back the rock demeanor.  During the pauses, a creaking violin is heard, quite a strange sound, but completely fits the song.  But so does every other instrument: the pounding piano, the solid drums, and Newman’s acoustic guitar.

“All of My Days and All of My Days Off” closes the album, sounding like a lost Twin Cinema track.  Newman’s double-tracked voice creates a great effect, and the female background singers again take up kind of echoing him.  It’s an obvious Newman track, complete with a stopping arrangement, where the piano takes over, leading back into the catchy chorus.  A solid conclusion, as the music fades out, and we’re left with intimate vocals.

When the album came out earlier this year, I got the chance (with Steve) to see him live up in NY.  Surprisingly, Get Guilty sounds just as good, if not better, live than on the cd.  The band consisted of at least seven members, and they were notably tight as a unit, which is no small feat with that many people.  Newman commanded the show personably and warmly, but wasn’t a spotlight hog.  Nicole Atkins provided a brilliant performance as one of the harmony background singers (and it didn’t hurt that she’s particularly attractive), and the rest of the band provided a sturdy musicianship. 

So, Newman knows how to write, knows how to play live, and knows how to arrange.  And yet, he’s still developing and experimenting as a musician (evidently, with The New Pornographers’ last album “Challengers” being slightly different from the rest).  So, I for one, cannot wait to hear what’s next for Newman.  Get Guilty is definitely an album displaying a progressing artist, and one of my favorite records this year.

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