AC Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Rating: ★★★★☆

I know that through his association with The New Pornographers AC Newman often gets stuck in that middling ground between Neko Case and Dan Bejar, but his third solo effort, Shut Down the Streets, is a statement of sorts.  It demonstrates his knack for writing incredible pop songs with lush arrangements, built for longevity in your record collection.

“I’m Not Talking” threw me at first, opening with a few electronic flourishes before the guitar and the rest of the lush orchestration joins in.  It all builds brilliantly, making way for AC Newman‘s voice, accompanied by Neko, to resonate with the listener.  There’s something about listening to that distinctive voice that makes his songs so familiar, but even when the vocals subside, there’s beautiful music in between, which demonstrates the progress he’s made on this effort. In the past, his voice has really stuck out as the sole instrument on his solo recordings, but much care has been placed on the construction and arrangements of these tracks.  “There’s Money in New Wave,” might sound mostly like a guitar strummed ballad, but tiny touches of percussion and string accents bring out the best in this song, making it more than your standard fare.  Oh, and the high pitch of his voice always warms my heart.

But, I can see a lot of people saying that Shut Down the Streets is marked too much by the influence of Newman at the moment of writing this record, himself citing psychedelic-era singer-songwriters.  With that being an obvious influence, I think it actually crafts a broader sound that benefits both the album and the listener.  In the past, there’s always been that difficulty of escaping your main gig, or side gig (whatever he prefers to call it nowadays), with many songs seemingly coming across as polished demos for New Pornos. You won’t get that when you listen to a song like “You Could Get Lost Out Here,” which is an expansive song that unfolds at the typical pace, though brimming with twinkling electronics, eclectic percussive moments and quieted guitar picking.  It’s like AC’s fronting the soundtrack to Peter and the Wolf…with more pop sensibility of course!

Still, if you’re a true AC Newman fan you’ll find heaven in songs like “Wasted English,” a tune that features more vocal accompaniment from Case.  It’s got an accordion that serves as the main backbone here, rather than the guitar, which is present, though distant.  Or you might enjoy “Hostages” for its bounce and spirit, and again, Neko’s appearance. You see, I think he’s always had these tracks inside, but he just need a little help finding a new way to flesh the songs out.  For the most part, Shut Down the Streets is very much what you’d expect from Mr. Newman, filled with splendid melodies/strong ballads, yet he’s differentiated himself slightly.  He’s added a more complete sound by throwing in all the accompaniment at his disposal, filling out an album that’s both warm and rewarding, listen after listen. Surely his best to date.


Download:AC Newman – I’m Not Talking [MP3]

Shut Down the Streets is available now from Matador Records.

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