steering clear of the mainstream
since 2001

june 2010

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info opinion

A.C. Newman

"Get Guilty" CD

Matador Records

Genre: indie pop, prog-rock, singer / songwriter

Brooklyn NY

Feb 23, 2009

It seems so obvious now, in hindsight, that A.C. Newman was eventually going to make a full-out prog album. And here it is! It's not your bald uncle's prog, though. Where many prog-rockers are sarcastic and dismissive, on Get Guilty, Newman's legendary reverence for the pop tradition is as evident as ever. Where many prog-rockers are insular assholes with an annoyingly inchoate sense of humour, Newman is insular too, but his introspection is sweet and thoughtful, just as it was on his first solo album, The Slow Wonder.

Newman's arrangements are arrestingly elegant, as always. This album finds him veering toward discrete song structures. Not that Newman has ever been a groove guy, but Get Guilty's songs progress like classical compositions more than anything he's done before. There are bells, strings, crescendos, call-and-response bits with the drums, instrumental monster codas. There are also lots of disorienting, offbeat tunes in the same vein as Slow Wonder's slower highlights. Newman has traditionally made pop songs with lots of flourishes; these are series of flourishes with lots of pop song lurking underneath them, if you focus. But it's still an A.C. Newman album. The hooks don't care whether you're paying attention. They will hit you either way.

As usual, Newman's lyrics are cryptic, but they're more forthright than usual this time. "The Collected Works" is probably about guilty, if not getting guilty (in case you were wondering, since the album did drop on the day guilty's successor took office). On a number of tracks he seems to be grappling with his reputation for being a craftsman, not a songwriter: "Amid moving boxes stacked, I'm still waiting for the right words, make of that what you will," and "It is the devil you know that will slam the door harder." Or "Stop twisting your words, words into shapes, shapes you can only make out when you squint," and "Forget yourself, he's somewhere else, you have the luxury of B-sides" (on a track that builds up to a nonsense la-la-la chorus about his submarine pulling into Stockholm). Or, maybe most tellingly, on the title track, "I will die with my foot in my mouth." Maybe he's found his great subject. I'm sure there are tons of people out there who identify with a guy struggling against being self-conscious about his self-consciousness. I sure can.

For the sake of argument, best chorus: "Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer." Most resonant: "The Changeling (Get Guilty)." Best song: "The Heartbreak Rides." Probability you'll agree with all three of those: 0. Final verdict: awesome.

a.c. newman's myspace


Rhett Alexander

[Vitals: 12 tracks, distributed by the label, released Jan 20, 2009]