Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

A.C. Newman -- The Slow Wonder
Matador; 2004

Don't you think it would be a bit of a bear to be part of a "supergroup" band? Having a gaggle of extremely talented writers in your company would quite the wall to bounce one's ideas off of, but it could also be the toughest group of peers to do so with. It'd be like some sort of Justice League of Canada or whatever. While it's probably not all that bad, it must provide some comfort to Carl "A.C." Newman, member of The New Pornographers, to be alone for once. His first solo outing, The Slow Wonder, is testament to this -- a truly beautiful indie pop record.

It's important that listeners of The Slow Wonder put aside the fond thoughts and memories they have of Newman's work with The Pornos. Not because he's abandoned writing astoundingly catchy songs, but rather because his solo work takes a more deliberate approach than his rambunctious past material. Each song teems with melodies that unfold with clockwork-like precision, making use of every second, every note wisely.

Musically, Newman and his backing band, a choice smattering of relatively unknown musicians, put forth a number of instant classics on The Slow Wonder. "Drink to Me, Babe, Then" is a thoughtful love song that starts off simply enough with guitar strums and thudding percussion, then expands to include recorder, melodian, and one of the best whistling lines I've ever heard. The piano-propelled "On The Table" is so sugary sweet that it can cause gotten dry mouth in those prone to the placebo effect.

The stunning musicianship present on the album shines through the most in two points, the first being on "The Town Halo." Led fearlessly by a cello line so devious it may as well been played by an oil tycoon (while twisting his moustache!), supported by Newman and Co.'s soaring vocals, and backed by a piano so intense you could pump your fist to it, the song is like a tightly compressed indie opera. The album's slowest piece, "Come Crash," is also one of its greatest -- both haunting and endearing, all in one ballad.

And as if it weren't enough, Newman also penned astute lyrics to compliment his music. Newman writes mostly first person narratives, combining soft acerbic wit ("Our time in hell has served us fine / At last alive, we'll meet at five for this / Cocktails on me, we can light them on the count three.") with deep romantic flare ("That's life, she said, we should be dead / We should be stars and perfect tens / And that's just three off the top of my head / Once again, you're a godsend.").

Suffice it to say that A.C. Newman has used his time away from the New Pornographers well. He's put out a record unmarred by filler or tawdry gimmick songs -- an album so amazing and hook-filled that only flaw I can think of was the occasional weird choice in song order. And just a quick note to all my professors: I'm going to be taking an extended sabbatical to go write my opus. See you in six months!

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