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Get Guilty  

By A.C. Newman. Matador.

It's a little difficult to differentiate Allan Carl Newman's solo work from his band's output, with The New Pornographers. Newman's influence over his Canadian band has grown, most evident in their 2007 release, Challengers. In fact, Newman has returned to Brooklyn's Seaside Lounge Studios (with producer Phil Palazzolo and engineer/percussionist Charles Burst in tow) to assemble another collection of melodic, jagged and quirky pop songs, filled with poetic, abstract and occasionally puzzling wordplay.

Get Guilty, A.C. Newman's second solo work, is deceptively dense complex pop. After repeated listening, you appreciate the series of layers that Newman puts into his songs and songwriting. He is often thought of as a "cold" or "detached" singer/songwriter, and on the surface, he is. However, Newman's vocal delivery is less detached than it is suppressed: It's an emotion that is expressed from an intellectual perspective, as in a Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill composition. You cannot bleach out all emotion, and the suppressed exuberance seeps through the songs in a distinct manner.

Production-wise, Newman borrows from the Phil Spector/Brian Wilson family tree, one that branches out in numerous musical paths, ranging from XTC to Panda Bear. What makes Newman's work distinct is that he seems to strip away all of Wilson's metaphorical "sunshine" while keeping the wall-of-sound, thick with various instruments including strings and horns, and cascading choral arrangements.

Newman has enlisted the aid of NY singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins and Mates of State's husband/wife duo, Jason and Kori Gardner Hammel to lend backing vocals (but who can really replace Neko Case?) and multi-instrumentalist Brendan Ryan, who also contributed to the Challengers sessions. But it's the fantastic drum and percussion work of Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster (who also played on the recent Mountain Goats recording, Heretic Pride) and the aforementioned Charles Burst who provide the punch and vitality to the orchestrated dynamic that pervades Get Guilty. Wurster's gradual drum crescendos in "The Heartbreak Rides" and the grand final song, "All of My Days and All of My Days Off," are incredible, where he caps off both songs with a string of building drum rolls that teeter on chaos.

"Here is my heart and here is my song ... I am divided," A.C. Newman deceptively states in "Prophets." However, he intricately weaves his notebook full of turn-of-phrases with an odd musical combination of the theatricality of David Bowie with the dense arrangement-style of Brian Wilson. Adding to the impressive body of work that Newman has already produced, Get Guilty is a focused musical offering by a reluctant, self-conscience force.

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  • By A.C. Newman. Matador.

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Mark Shikuma

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