Top Albums of 2012: 100-51

It’s really hard to narrow down a list of Top Albums of 2012, especially when you have four contributors with different opinions.  We gave the reins to Nathan.Lankford and Nicole Baumann on this one, since they write the majority of the album reviews, but we all have a little representation within this.  Now, we do realize that our site has specialized tastes, so please realize that these are our OPINIONS.  You’re welcome to disagree, and, in fact, we encourage that process.  Also, we’re doing a Top 100 because so many records came out this year, it wouldn’t be fair to narrow it down.  Not to mention it might lead you to discover some hits you hadn’t heard about yet. Oh, and we don’t really like Frank Ocean or hip-hop…just a personal choice…here’s the first segment.

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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.

Afternoon Delight with AC Newman (+ Neko)

You know, I feel like I beat the world over the head today with some rock n’ roll, so I figure we could close out the day with a little touch of perfect pop from our beloved AC Newman.  The singer has teamed up with his New Pornos bandmate, Neko Case, combining for a mellow little pop ballad that’s sure to give you a spritual lift as you try to wrap up the world’s longest Friday.  This track will be featured on Newman’s upcoming record for Matador Records, Shut Down the Streets, which will hit the stores on October 9th. Hope everyone has an awesome end to your Friday. Be safe out there folks.


Download: AC Newman – Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns [MP3]

New Gem from AC Newman

I’m not going to lie to you; I think AC Newman is perhaps one of the best songwriters around.  Sure, a lot of people agree, especially when you throw him with New Pornographers, but I feel like a lot of people overlook his solo efforts (sadly!).  On October 9th Matador Records will be releasing AC’s 3rd record, Shut Down the Streets, and hopefully you’ll listen to this song below and realize just how awesome his songwriting is.  Personally, his voice alone, with its tiny inflections, gets me every time.  Listen here, and try to argue with the gifts of this dude.


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

Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend

brendRating: ★★★½☆

Lately, we’ve seen more of Brendan Benson trading licks with that one guy from the White Stripes, but when he first came onto the scene, he was a pop crooner.  His album Lapalco remains overlooked, despite all the gems it offers listeners. Now he returns with a new record, My Old, Familiar Friend.  It’s a return to form, for the most part, though you can see the shift in his writing if you’re familiar with his work.

Opening the album, you see a glimmer of the Brendan of the past on “A Whole Lot Better.”  His vocals start low, as they always go, and change to the higher tones mid-syllable.  Even the lyrics seem to recall some of the old territory, but it’s the choruses that remind you of the old songwriter of yesterday.  But, noticeably, the structure of the songs themselves have begun to change a bit, which is good, considering we all admire growth with our favorite artists.

“Eyes on the Horizon” is yet another example of his growth.  It just seems that so much more is going on within the song, and while it may not be as clean as his previous output, you can glimpse the familiar, especially in the chorus. Perhaps the inclusion of guitar solos, of the classic rock sort, give away his most recent act The Raconteurs.  It’s a more mature songwriter we find here, which explains a lot of the lyrical content, as the story line in the album seems to revolve around reflection of a lost love.

Just as you thought you had a collection of b-sides from The Raconteurs sessions, at least the ones Brendan wrote, he kicks it up a notch near the end of the album, starting with “Poised and Ready.”  While he once sounded similar to the early Ben Kweller, he appears more like a rocking version of A.C. Newman. This second half of the record though is chock full of straight ahead pop rock songs of the most sublime sort. It’s the sort of stuff you know you’ll be singing along to during your days at work.  The catchiness of “Don’t Wanna Talk” will surely have you and your friends singing along in your cars. From there you can slide right into “Misery,” which is probably one of the best songs that you’ll find here on the album.  As far as song construction goes, it’s probably one of the more open songs, and the extra space allows for Brendan to work his magic for his audience.

Nothing on this album will blow you away with creativity, but if you’re the kind of person that cherishes solid pop rock to go along with a nice long drive, then you will definitely find something for yourself here.  Brendan Benson has a quality voice that will keep you coming back for more, as he churns out pop gems with his crafty songwriting and vocal inflection.


Download: Brendan Benson – Misery [MP3]

A.C. Newman – Get Guilty

Rating: ★★★★☆

The majority of the listening world will know A.C. Newman by his other gig in New Pornographers. This new effort, released by Matador Records, isn’t far off from the land of his pop-supergroup, especially when one looks back at an album like Challengers.

From the minute “There are Maybe Ten or Twelve” takes off you can tell exactly the direction that this album is going to go.  It’s a subdued number, with high volume interludes, but the focus remains predominantly on Newman’s voice.

An album such as this is blessed by such a voice, as his is one that remains truly unique in this modern age.  He can go higher than most, while he brings it all back again to his normal singing voice.  In all his recordings, this is clearly the best he has sounded, which may owe a lot to remarkable production.

Keeping that in mind, most will settle with this album, knowing that your expectations will be met precisely.  Melodies will rise and fall, being matched at every corner, but, the pace isn’t exactly pushing listeners forward, looking for more from each song.  In fact, the only song that picks up any speed is “The Palace at 4 A.M.” Still, you can sit through this album in it’s entirety with a great deal of enjoyment; it’s just not going to grab you like other tracks A.C. Newman has done in the past, especially those featuring a certain Destroyer. Be sure to get through until the end for “All of my Days & All of my Days Off” is probably one of the best songs he’s written in years.

All in all, you come to the end of the album with one clear realization: A.C. Newman can spit out pop genius no matter where he is in his life.  Each song is interesting, in both melody and structure, as he often uses his voice to carry the songs, which is precisely where the whole album began.  It’s not every day when you come across a musician who can win you over with his voice alone.  And for that, we should all Get Guilty.


Download: AC Newman – There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve [MP3]