Shut Down the Streets
One thing Newman has never done in his career solo, and with The New Pornographers is repeat himself. So while there are flashes of Challengers and The Slow Wonder in this music, if not the lyrics, it is as different from them, too, just for being different types of indie rock. Newman wanted a late 70s sounding psychedelic singer/songwriter album, and he does deliver on that score.
This album could also be a rock/folk album along the lines of what Dar Williams did on her excellent current album In The Time of Gods. Newman accentuates the indie rock/pop of this approach, unlike Dar, but the instruments played here, to give a few examples, Chris Miller’s flute and clarinet, pocket pianos by Newman and Marco Benevenio, Mike Merenda’ banjo -- give it a rock/folk feel. It is wonderful, all the way through. There isn’t a wasted or out –of - place instrument on this album. And Neko Case’s backing vocals are a joy to hear. She knows when to be soft, or lift her voice for great effect.
Writing clearly about how happiness, as in the birth of his son, and sadness, the death of his mother, can coexist side by side, and how that does happen in life, can be tough to pull off with lyrics this clear and plainspoken. But he does, like on the beautiful tribute to his mom, the title song, with the line, “they should have shut down the streets.” And the touching, joyous “Hostages” and “Strings,” celebrate the birth of his son. “We’ve been waiting for you,” the refrain from “Strings” really says it all about the birth of his son, as does the entire lyric of “Hostages.”
“There’s Money in New Wave” is about how he hopes he can teach his son everything he knows, and his worry that he won’t know what to say to him, could also be a sly comment on the current state of indie rock. What is a comment on how indie rock used to stand for much more than a career in music is on “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns.”
A.C. Newman, solo and with TNP, has never made a bad album. But his latest is stunning in the way it is clear, clean, delightfully simple, heartfelt, and buoyant. It is a thrill to hear, fun to hear, and enthralling. I love it.