A.C. Newman employs his clever tricks at the Troubadour on Thursday
A.C. Newman's first solo album in 2004, “The Slow Wonder,” was one of the year’s best releases for fans of baroque indie pop -- and it was best exemplified in the seventh track, “Come Crash.” All woozy helter-skelter, the melody veers dangerously close to destruction with each chorus of “Christine, come crash on my floor.” Utilizing a battery of pianos, drums and guitar that leer over the precipice, it’s a veritable nail-biter of a song.
It’s no shock that Newman knows a thing or two about constructing a trickster of a melody. The New Pornographers’ other resident redhead has been leading the band through four albums of immediate yet fanciful power pop that reveals more depth with repeated listening. And while Neko Case likes to belt her own songs over relatively simple constructs, Newman’s jams are like little opera cakes of music: layers and layers of sweet texture.
“Get Guilty,” his second outing released last month, sees Newman still tacking down his pop with bolts of hard rhythm, but he’s also managed more range. For every chuggernaut like “Submarines of Stockholm,” there’s “Changeling (Get Guilty),” which clips along at a milder pace, volleying between controlled chaos and stripped down bits with acoustic guitar and vocal harmony.
“The Palace at 4 a.m.” is a jittery tune, but it’s thankfully calmed with some '70s AM radio production, swathing the voices in just a touch of echo. The title is also borrowed from a Donald Barthelme short story -- a tribute from one post-modernist to another. Whereas biographer Tracy Daugherty in her new book, “Hiding Man,” argues that Barthelme saw himself as an heir to modernists such as Beckett, Newman could easily be seen as an heir to Paul McCartney. Let’s count the Beatles and Wings as thoroughly modern and trend-setting, in the same way as James Joyce. McCartney is fond of building melodies as lush and complex as an Amazonian forest maze, but they always translate as stunningly simple, and for all of Newman’s subversion at times, his impenetrable lyrics, he’s always faithful to the principles of pure pop. He wants to communicate with the same bright clarity, it’s just that sometimes the story is complicated.
Case in point: the opening track of “Get Guilty.” “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve” is one of Newman’s most masterful yet, a glorious sweep that changes substance as much as its lyrics duck from a definitive meaning. At times, “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve” is a clodding stomper, at other times it’s as graceful and delicate as anything concocted by Andrew Bird, but it’s always a sleight of hand that wants to be figured out. Like he sings over and over again, “make of that what you will.”
-- Margaret Wappler
A.C. Newman at the Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursday. $15.
Photo: Caleb Beyers