A.C. Newman

Get Guilty

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Carl Newman has been behind so many excellent bands and albums that by 2009 it has become increasingly easy to take a new album for granted, to mistake his steady craftsmanship for complacency. While it's true that Get Guilty doesn't break any new ground, you'd be wrong to think that Newman is treading water or just cranking out albums because it's his job. The album is full of songs that would have made the cut for the New Pornographers' last couple albums -- in fact, some (like "The Heartbreak Rides" and "Submarines of Stockholm") would have bested everything there. At the risk of sounding heretical, at this point in time the A.C. Newman records are superior to the New Pornographers albums. Sure, the NPs make bright and shiny indie rock albums that sound great on the radio, but they also have acquired a layer of gloss and bombast that makes it hard to truly embrace their sound. On his solo albums, Newman is more relaxed with the arrangements; many of the songs forgo the insistent rhythms of the NPs for a more stripped-down and immediate feel. While there is less experimentation here than on Slow Wonder, it's still nice to hear Newman thinking small(er). He's also more focused in the songwriting department when he's on his own, forsaking the often manic twists and turns of a typical NP song in favor of a more direct approach. That's not to say that Newman has suddenly become a confessional singer/songwriter; it's just that he appears more confident in writing songs that simply sound good. It may not seem like a big distinction but it really is, and it helps give this record (like it did with Slow Wonder) a feeling of peace and warmth that wasn't really part of Newman's game until very recently. Of course, all that being said, Get Guilty is still a Carl Newman record -- so you get all the things you've come to expect from him: insanely catchy songs, loopy and indecipherable lyrics, and first-rate female backing vocals (here provided by Kori Gardner of Mates of State and Nicole Atkins). Call him a journeyman indie rocker if you like, take him for granted if you must, just don't write him off. Anyone who can craft a record that sounds and feels as good as Get Guilty deserves to keep on making records forever.

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