A.C. Newman A.C. NewmanShut Down The Streets
Until recently, one could establish a division between the music of The New Pornographers and that of A.C. Newman. In its early albums, the Canadian super-group led by the redhead, offered power-pop with vigorous melodies full of optimistic anthems and pumped-up keyboards. And when Carl decided to venture out on his own, he did it with more of an air of the singer-songwriter. He still had those qualities that made the Pornographers so unique, but he gave his songs a calmer air, with the acoustic guitar dominating the keyboards. But with the release of “Challengers” (Matador, 2007), the projects started to run on more parallel paths, as it was an album where slower tempos and ballads reigned, distancing itself a bit from the immediacy of hits like “Electric Version” (Matador, 2003). Now, three years after releasing his previous solo LP, “Get Guilty”, Newman is back with a desire to take the formula that he had presented in his solo career even further.
One of the most important changes in “Shut Down The Streets” is in the lyrics. If they weren’t very clear in The New Pornographers (in fact, sometimes it was hard to figure out what they meant), here it is just the opposite. Newman says that he wasn’t as concerned with poetry in this project. He wanted the message to be much clearer than it had been until now. And this is evident in “They Should Have Shut Down All The Streets”, written about the recent death of his mother. “They should have shut down all the streets / Presidents and kings should’ve been there / With not a single empty seat / All the schools closed” begins the song. It’s an idea that everyone can identify with, something that anyone might want: for the funeral of a loved one to be the most important thing happening on Earth at exactly that moment. There is a depressed tone in some of the pieces on this album - although the climax does come, it doesn’t do so until the album’s final cut. But not everything is tragic, not at all. The vital “Strings” has that lively rhythm of the Pornographers’ best songs, and it is dedicated to his newborn son, with the line “we’ve been waiting for you” repeating endlessly. These few words might sound completely over the top in another band’s hands, but in Newman’s they just sound sincere, from the heart.
In a strictly musical sense there are also obvious changes. A.C. Newman has delicately shifted towards 70s radio formula in general; folk in particular. It’s easy to trace parallels, especially with the latest The Shins (the tropical airs of “ Do Your Own Time”), but also with M. Ward, Andrew Bird or, in some fragments, with the folk experimentation of Grizzly Bear. A good example is found in the composition of “I’m Not Talking” with delicate percussion, gentle guitar picking, and lively woodwinds. He also lets himself get carried away with light electronica in “You Could Get Lost Out Here”, with those magical sounds that it seemed only James Mercer could offer. Flutes are more present in songs like “Hostages”, giving the album a rural air that is accentuated in pieces like “The Troubadour”, which is decorated with a jumping banjo. It all ties in with the new country family life that Carl has created for himself in Woodstock (a small town 170 kilometres north of New York). And as we said before, there is also the occasional twee-pop ballad, this time in the form of the amusingly-titled “There’s Money In New Wave”.
But make no mistake, nothing sounds strange here, there are still sweet melodies and graceful vocal harmonies with Neko Case, a special guest on many of the cuts. There’s even something for people who want their classic The New Pornographers, who will enjoy “Encyclopedia Of Classic Takedowns”. “Shut Down The Streets” is a work that lets us know where A.C. Newman stands spiritually and musically; whetting our appetite for what he might be cooking up with his main band.