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There’s a certain inherent risk in being both a solo artist and a member of a group. Especially if you start releasing solo albums almost as regularly as your band does. Though, realistically, no one necessarily expects a solo record to surpass a band’s output.

But that changes if you’re A.C. Newman. Since the bulk of the New Pornographers songs are written by Newman, any solo record would be ripe for comparison. His first, The Slow Wonder, came sandwiched between Electric Version and Twin Cinema, arguably two of the band’s best records. It received pretty universal praise, but now he’s released his second, Get Guilty, following the Pornographers’ least critically well received album, Challengers. The stakes are indeed high.

Admittedly, I’ve struggled with Newman’s work in the past. The man is a master songsmith musically, but the sometimes abstract and obtuse nature of his lyrics can undermine a song’s effectiveness for me. Perhaps that’s just me being too tied into lyrics, but his literate style always leaves me feeling as if I am out of the loop somehow. His finest songs seem to break from that mold, feeding listeners something more concrete to hold onto, even if only in short bursts. It’s no surprise that the best moments on Get Guilty are that way — what is a surprise is how frequently it happens.

The album has an opening, grand salvo in the form of “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve” and its big, symphonic chorus. This is all immediately upstaged by the first outstanding moment on the album, “The Heartbreak Rides.” “Just out of the woods and yelling down the mountain / all I really wanted was to go downtown, and so we ride / ..she said, ‘Let’s go,’ ‘L.A.,’ she cried. The heartbreak rides for free,” Newman sings, then bounds into a soft but insistent chant of what really sounds like “Yo-ho,” as if he and his accomplice were somehow pirates setting out for the seven seas. It’s a surprisingly poignant song given its truly subtle nature. The chorus could’ve exploded into something much more intense, but Newman’s gift as a songwriter has always been nuance – scalpel over ax. His melodies don’t kill, they infect.

Get Guilty is full of songs where the rhythms utilize unexpected, reserved deployment — the choppy percussion of “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer;” the pounding, symbolic punches of “Thunderbolts.” This insistence on holding his band back is typical of Newman’s songwriting, letting them completely loose only at scattered intervals throughout the album, making moments like the aforementioned “The Heartbreak Rides” and “The Palace at 4 A.M.” all the more spectacular.

The back third of the album is a bit weak compared to the first – the first four songs are solid winners from front to back; but this doesn’t affect the overall strength of the record. Get Guilty is Newman’s best release as a solo artist and even tops the most recent New Pornographers record, further building on a body of work that is one of the most impressive in the ever-expanding “indie” rock catalogue. words/ j neas

Download:

MP3: A.C. Newman :: The Heartbreak Rides
MP3: A.C. Newman :: Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer
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Amazon: A.C. Newman – Get Guilty

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9 Responses to “A.C. Newman :: Get Guilty”

  1. After listening to part of Get Guilty this afternoon, in addition to discovering it received a 7.9/10 from Pitchfork, I am disappointed. I have enjoyed what I have heard of the New Pornographers catalogue, and Newman’s sophomore album pales in comparison to it. In some cases, the fusion of traditional Canadian tunes, folk, 70s rock, and Fountains of Wayne may work. In Newman’s instance he over and under utilizes each component (frankly I am sick of Fountains of Wayne). While I enjoyed Prophets and Submarines of Stockholm more than other tracks, they did not achieve the caliber Newman’s compositions are capable of. My rating – 5/10. Enjoyably mediocre in every sense, this quasi-indie folk attempt fails to deliver on either, despite the occasional charming melody. I had to clear my head with The Beach Boys Holland and Boz Scaggs Silk Degrees after experiencing Get Guilty. Hopefully Newman is in a sophomore slump, as he is definitely capable of making a noteworthy album. Not one for the year end best of lists.

  2. Considering that the New Porns have covered “Don’t Bring Me Down” onstage, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Yo-ho” is actually “E.L.O.” That’s what my ears are telling me.

  3. Paul, I was unable to convince myself totally that he was saying ‘yo-ho,’ so who knows. Well, Carl knows, but we’ll have to ask him.

  4. whoa funky rutabaga, are you saying that the mighty unfallable pitchfork is…not right about something?

    you just shut up, that is IMPOSSIBLE!!!

    in other news, i like the album, B+

  5. After a partial second listening to a track, I liked Get Guilty more than previously. I will revise my rating to a 7/10. Still not going to be on my top albums of 2009 list, but formidably better than before. Maybe it had something to do with the speakers I was listening the music through…

  6. In response to comment #3, Pitchfork is the bible for us music lovers. But it is not unfallable. Here are three examples where Pitchfork incorrectly rated an album.

    1. Bon Iver – Blood Bank EP – 7.9/10. While I enjoyed For Emma, Forever Ago more, it is idiotic to bestow this stellar release with a high-average rating. My rating – 9.5/10.

    2. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago – 8.1/10. After a serious listening at the beginning of 2009, I can conclude that For Emma was my favorite album of 2008, in addition to being the best album of 2008. There are no bad tracks, and Justin Vernon is a musical genius. My rating – 10/10.

    3. The Moondoggies – Don’t Be A Stranger – unrated. A superb album with obvious influences from The Band and Bob Dylan (think Complete Basement Tapes, not the short album). The problem was not that it was over or underrated; it was not rated at all. A huge oversight made by Pitchfork. My rating – 9.5/10.

    Despite the reverence of Pitchfork (I am a major fan myself), it is not unfallable. But for the majority of reviews, Pitchfork is fantastic.

  7. Pitchfork takes a lot of slag from people in general – but I read them on a daily basis. I don’t always read their entire reviews. I’ll look at the number, read the introductory paragraph and if I’m not hooked, I bail. But I think their snarky legacy still overshadows their work – Pitchfork has toned themselves down quite a bit from even a couple of years ago, IMHO.

    Funky, if you want to read an example of a good Pitchfork review, look no further than Amanda Petrusich’s review of the _Blood Bank_ EP that you just mentioned. Despite your complaint about the rating, I thought the article was insightful, interesting and well written. I, personally, don’t disagree with the number – mostly because it’s a 4 song EP with two really great songs and two decent ones – but the analysis is solid. I also enjoyed their review of _Get Guilty_, to keep this on point.

  8. I most defnitely agree that Petrusich’s review was eloquently executed. I strongly disagree with several statements she made, but also could see where she was coming from in her opinions. Sometimes, I bail from the article after viewing a rating I deem incorrect or evidence to provided the opinions stated substandard. I still would rate Blood Bank substantially higher than Petrusich did, but 7.9/10 is more than passable, as people don’t often see the overlooked tracks (Babys, Beach Baby) for what they are, and all the attention is on Woods (though deserved).

  9. u know what ! Yeah – just palin disappointed – loved twin cinemas – it brought me board for all the other wonderful thangs – but its a sure slide – bought it dumped it

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