Archive for A.C. Newman

The New Pornographers Play Their Best Album In Years At Their Best 9:30 Club Show Ever

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2017 by johnbuckley100

the-new-pornographers-live-in-chicago-at-metro-april-2017-32Purloined photo with apologies and credit to Bobby Talamine of In The Loop Magazine

We didn’t need a reminder, but boy was it comforting to hear The New Pornographers play “The Laws Have Changed” early in their Saturday night 9:30 Club show in D.C.  Yes, in the real world the laws are changing, and not for the better.  Thankfully, in that 90-minute respite from our mad president that we spent seeing a favorite band play a delightful set, we learned The New Pornographers haven’t changed a bit, and are at the same time thoroughly new.

We didn’t miss Dan Bejar, though we recognize the blasphemy of these words.  As great as his songs are, as fun as his contributions have been, both live and on albums, the streamlined New Ps with just Carl and Neko keeping the bleeding heart show rolling worked wonderfully.  The show must go on, and backing an album whose thematic heart lies in “This Is The World Of The Theater,” it surely did. Joe Seiders had already proved himself to be a worthy replacement for Kurt Dahl on drums, and even on the Brill Bruisers tour three years ago we’d learned to relax; Seiders keeps the Niagara pounding going with no letup in its galvanic force, and has a few more tricks up his sleeve.  This was the best of the six or seven shows we’ve seen The New Pornographers play at 9:30 going back to 2005.

Which makes sense, since Whiteout Conditions is the best New Pornographers’ album since the by-now classic Twin Cinema.  It’s hard to remember that when that record came out nearly 12 years ago, it was bemoaned for how the band had lost the oddness and caffeinated sheen of their first two astonishing albums.  Now, of course, we recognize Twin Cinema as a high point in Western Civ (and we’re increasingly worried that 2014’s Brill Bruisers might be seen by future historians as its peak.)  Whiteout Conditions is a mix of everything we love about the band, bright and bouncy, profound when needed.  With songs like “High Ticket Attractions,” which we can’t get out of our head, and new approaches like “Darling Shade,” which sound like Martha and the Vandellas updated for the 21st Century, this Bejar-less edition of the band  flows like a lava tube off the edge of a cliff, powerfully smoking in the creation of new earth.

That The New Pornographers are one of our very favorite bands defies certain logic.  Ordinarily, we treasure the analog sound of Fender guitars played by punk bands and The New Ps feature keyboard-driven synthetic sounds polished to a high gloss.  They’re not exactly a guilty pleasure or a secret passion, for we play their recs all the time, but the pleasure we get from listening to them is a bit like wearing only natural fibers in everyday life, while enjoying the chance to dress up in polyester.  Carl Newman clearly loved songwriters like Brian Wilson and bands like ELO, and us, not so much.  But last night at the 9:30 Club this band — capable of the most intricate studio albums — played a wonderfully organic set with four-part harmonies intact, the songs building and building so that by the time we got to “The Bleeding Heart Show” encore, we could emerge from the club’s doors with a smile on our face, ready to face anything, up to and including all the laws that have changed.

Neko Case Is A Man, An Animal, A Gorgeous Singer, Ambitious Songwriter Too

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 8, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Last time around, Neko Case declared she was a “man, man, man eater,” and the title of one of Middle Cyclone’s best songs was “I’m An Animal.”  Now, on her most accessible and strongest solo album, the glorious The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko declares “I’m A Man,” and does a better job of  convincing us than Muddy Waters ever did.  More like a Superman, both the king and the queen of our species.

“Man” was the first song we heard from the new album, and the best instantaneous signal it sent to our brain was that had to be the New Pornographer’s Kurt Dahl on drums.  We love the way most of Neko’s solo albums have had Calexico’s John Covertino hitting the skins, but Covertino is a moody and mysterious artist on the traps; to have the rolling thunder of Kurt Dahl powering things along meant that this was going to be a different kind of Neko Case album.  And it is.

Lest you think, from the title, that Neko’s joined Fiona Apple’s ranks, The Worse Things Get… is the least baroque, most straight ahead rock’n’roll album of her distinguished solo career, even as it retains all of the complex folk song structures we’ve grown to love.  For someone who was introduced to most of  the world through the high camp pop dynamics of the New Pornographers, Neko’s solo albums have always been something way different, as different from those albums as Utah’s Dirty Devil River is from Vancouver Harbour.   We have loved Neko’s voice from the first moment we heard it, but if you had to mark the moment it truly captured our heart, it was actually when she sang backup to Sally Timms on the Mekons’ “City of London” on Journey To The End Of Night. There was just something about the emollient power of her vocals that lassoed our left ventricle and yanked.  But there was such a leap between the pop dynamics of her early role in the New Pornos, which eventually morphed into true co-equal status with A.C. Newman, and the solo albums she recorded with the likes of Calexico and Giant Sand, that while we admired the raw ambition of her songwriting, we didn’t really love the albums.  They were work, punctuated by some songs so great you immediately created a new playlist just to have them star on it.

Even on the great Blacklisted, in which Neko’s funny, marvelous lyrics seemed like a beautiful woman spouting Kant, just to show she’s not just another pretty face, we found the music slow going.  Again, the metaphor to torture is these songs were often like a creek in the beautiful high desert compared to the easy and torrential flow of the Columbia, up there in the geography of the New Pornographers.  We didn’t much enjoy Fox Confessor Brings The Flood,  though Middle Cyclone took on some of the aspect of her satisfying solo album, The Tigers Have Spoken, on which, with a great live band, she kicked ass.  We played Middle Cyclone a lot.  But since we’ve downloaded The Worse Things Get, we can’t stop listening to it — an indicator this is something different, something a little easier, poppier, and yeah, better.

You might think, listening to the opener here, “Wild Creatures,” that we are in for another dark, difficult ride, one where you could admire the scenery, as in a Terence Malick movie, without much loving it.  But by the time we get to “Man,” it’s clear: this is Neko’s masterpiece, at least so far; the album that combines this most ambitious songwriter’s gathering strength with a varied template that makes room for crowd-pleasing melody.  While we’ve always loved hearing Neko’s voice, on the new album, we can have it all.

Tulip Frenzy’s #9 Album Of 2012 Is A.C. Newman’s “Shut Down The Streets”

Posted in Music with tags , , on November 23, 2012 by johnbuckley100

It turns out that, A.C. Newman’s Shut Down The Streets was not only the best New Pornographer’s album of 2012, it was also one of the best albums of the year.  As we said in October, “We’re liking Shut Down The Streets almost as much as The Slow Wonder, and a lot more than Get Guilty, which came out in 2009.  After the first two New Porno albums made the world a whackier and far more joyous place, some of the band’s fans reacted to the third album – Twin Cinemas, with its oft-slower, less manic songs — like Andrew Sullivan reviewing the President’s recent debate performance.  But we liked the depth and minor-key melodic shifts, the emotional complexity of that album and what followed, especially on subsequent albums, with songs like “Fortune” and “We End Up Together,” which swapped effervescent irony for psychic nourishment, pop rocks for comfort food.  And so it goes with Shut Down The Streets, which shows a parallel progression from The Slow Wonder that Together showed from Mass Romantic, and is a lot more like “Bones Of An Idol” than “The SlowDescent Into Alcoholism.”

A.C. Newman’s “Shut Down The Streets” Is The Best New Pornographers Album Of 2012

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 9, 2012 by johnbuckley100

Some band leaders take a respite from their main gig to try something completely different — play with Slash or Moroccan tribesman, explore songs all composed for zithers or something, do an album of covers they’d never get their bandmates to play. A.C. Newman punctuates New Pornographers albums with solo records that sound a lot like… New Pornographers albums, with a fair bit of overlap among musicians.  Maybe Shut Down The Streets is made up of songs that Kurt Dahle refuses to drum on, but sheesh, Neko sings on ’em, so why not just round up the gang?  And isn’t that Kurt on The Decembrists-esque “I’m Not Talking?”  Maybe the gang *is* all here.

If those aren’t his fellow Pornos playing, we’re betting their absence is a matter of convenience, of Carl Newman having moved himself and his expanding family to Upstate New York while most  of his colleagues prefer to see the sun set over the orcas gamboling in Vancouver Harbor.  All we know is that, not for the first time, Newman’s released a fine album that will do more than tide us over until the next New Pornographers album sweet-talks its way past the censors.

We’re liking Shut Down The Streets almost as much as The Slow Wonder, and a lot more than Get Guilty, which came out in 2009.  After the first two New Porno albums made the world a whackier and far more joyous place, some of the band’s fans reacted to the third album — Twin Cinemas, with its oft-slower, less manic songs — like Andrew Sullivan reviewing the President’s recent debate performance.  But we liked the depth and minor-key melodic shifts, the emotional complexity of that album and what followed, especially on subsequent albums, with songs like “Fortune” and “We End Up Together,” which swapped effervescent irony for psychic nourishment, pop rocks for comfort food.  And so it goes with Shut Down The Streets, which shows a parallel progression from The Slow Wonder that Together showed from Mass Romantic, and is a lot more like “Bones Of An Idol” than “The SlowDescent Into Alcoholism.”

Newman is now a married man, a father, an adult so willing to step up to the richer, heavier texture of his new life that he tweets threats to his dachshund (who apparently started it by growling at the newborn.)  Making the Sophie’s Choice of one’s kid over the pooch…not a typical rock star move.  The same evidence of maturity is shown throughout Shut Down The Streets.  A little of the old manic wildness is gone, but what remains is so admirably resonant you’d think he was a Canadian or something.

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