It's easy to hear A.C. Newman's stamp on the New Pornographers. Neko Case and Dan Bejar are both chock full of musical personality and style, but the songwriting is all Newman. Unlike Case and Bejar, Newman doesn't project his quirkiness. Instead he writes fucking poppy ass hooks that stick to your gills, then lets his pristine production and arrangements do the talking. A.C. Newman's solo work is almost formulaic and dependable, but I can't help but believe that it's because he just has an indelible knack for this pop stuff and a whip-smart approach to production. On Newman's second solo work Get Guilty, after 2004's The Slow Wonder, he ladles on the sun-kissed baroque pop goodness.
This album is thick with great lyrics, but there is an overall ambiguity to them. Banging to a start, "There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve" enters with deep broad chimes and an elusive first line of "Make of that what you will". Layering on the vague, the album's single "The Palace at 4 a.m." professes that there is "no pushing words around", among other equally mysterious allusions. Even on the strong "Heartbreak Ride" he masters a non-word chorus, "Yo-ho", into an empowering shout of sustenance, using the sound and rhythm of the words as an instrument. Strings of cerebral quips are matched by drum slaps and horn flourishes as the main attraction, sharing the stage and both contributing equally.
"Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer" is perhaps the most spare and jagged track on the album, most certainly rougher and less contained at least, evoking more indie rock than pop. Once again, Newman's vocal outpourings resemble more of an instrument. The way that some phrases are broken at odd intervals to accentuate the rhyming sounds so easily done, but yet very purposeful and in reality, probably not as easy as it seems. The last track, "All Of My Days & All Of My Days Off" was the first song I heard, and I mistakenly took it for a New Pornographers song. That aside, the chorus is the catchiest on the record, brimming with a battery of Newman hooks and the sweet tweets of Nicole Atkins and Kori Gardner Hammel from Mates of State. Jon Wurster, of Superchunk, also guest drums on this album, instilling needed pep with his punchy bass drum kicks.
Get Guilty is such a gem of a pop album; perfectly crafted, catchy, densely layered without feeling lavish… yet it still feels a little too nice and warm. Towards the back half of the album, the songs get a little less catchy and a little more blah (with the exception of "All Of My Days & All Of My Days Off") but the overall intensity and on-target execution makes those few tracks easier to overlook. I've heard this album done, though not done this well, and it's just not jumping out at me as much as it should. I suspect this is a lengthy listener, an "it grows on you" album. I'll surely find out… as I can't get A.C. Newman's sweet, and oh so pitch-perfect, croon out of my head.