Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A.C. Newman-the slow wonder (2004)

"The Best Power-Pop of 2004"

Although the Calgary Flames lost by a single goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals-- squandering their chance to become the first Canadian team to take home the trophy since 1993-- the vanquished hockey players' country-folk have no reason to hang their collective heads.

Among their luminaries, the Canucks can count a bilingual prime minister who speaks in full sentences, filmmaker Guy Maddin, and Vancouver's preeminent redheaded songwriter, Carl Newman, who has just released, by a stride, the best power-pop album of 2004.
Newman worked through his more angular pop leanings in the mid-1990s with Sub Pop indie rockers Zumpano and is now the primary songwriter in The New Pornographers. To place The Slow Wonder's aesthetics in terms that The New Pornographers fans will understand, these 11 tracks blend Mass Romantic's clipped frenetics, Electric Version's spacious tenderness, and the agile twists and turns of Zumpano, effortlessly humbling all three.

On The Slow Wonder, the hooks crack apart and multiply, accruing additional catchiness the way the pumped muscles of a spinach-stuffed Popeye give birth to crops of testosterone-filled goose bumps. At one point in "Drink to Me Babe Then", a languid group of whistlers double themselves harmoniously before a quavering electromagnetic guitar blazes overhead; elsewhere, a fading melodian shoots rubber bands at the stars.
Although not much longer than an episode of Small Wonder, Newman has created a timeless document. These are soulful sing-alongs with grit, pop nuggets that hold up to hours of repeat play in humid bumper-to-bumper traffic, and ultimately, the sound of a great songwriter hitting his stride.

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