Album review: AC Newman: They Shut Down The Streets

Carl Newman, whose professional name is AC Newman, is well-known for being the vocalist and main songwriter of The New Pornographers. Carl Newman is the de facto leader of the Canadian super group, and has been since the year 2000.  Their five albums have received consistently good reviews, and Newman’s songwriting skills have contributed much to their success. It was with interest that I began the quest to review this album.

The New Pornographers have been my favorite band for a few years now (shout out to ladies’ man, man’s man, man-about-town Brian Doddridge for getting me into them) and yet I have never actually listened to any of AC Newman’s solo work. I’ve dabbled in Destroyer, enjoyed some of the coigns of Cathryn Calder, and been enchanted thoroughly by Neko Case, but have never listened to Mr. Newman himself. Previously a member of Superconductor and Zumpano in the 1990’s, Newman has only recently embarked on solo success, a surprising fact due to his key role in the greatness of the groups he has been a part of. Not surprisingly, this album has some great songwriting. It sounds like a slightly deflated New Pornographers record – imagine Mass Romantic. Got that? Okay. Pretend it’s a beach ball, and someone sat on it, except as more air escapes from it, the sadder the beach ball gets. They Shut Down The Streets is a sad beachball of a  New Pornographers album. This is not a detrimental thing, or suggesting that Newman is indistinguishable from the supergroup he fronts. If anything, this album, which is excellent, just serves as evidence of how instrumental AC Newman is to the New Pornographer’s success.

While Newman himself typically shies away from being referred to as the leader of the New Pornographers (which, to be fair, would be quite the thing for his grandma to google)  it’s difficult to imagine who else could do it. This album, from the sweet vocals down to the guitar riffs and sugary-sweet accordion, is a New Pornographers album; AC Newman just forgot to invite the other members. One New Pornographer who does appear quite frequently on this album is Neko Case, the other high-profile member of the group. Her wonderful alto provides a lovely contrast to Newman’s sugar-sweet grit, and the listener is left wishing the two would just make musical babies forever.

This is a lovely album full of Newman’s trademark fantastic songwriting and sweet n’ sour vocals. Weirdly, and whether this is a feature of production or just how Newman likes to sing, the vocals actually aren’t super clear. The lyrics tend to get a bit muddied and lost, which is a shame because the man has a killer voice and writes very well. The album itself is low-key and peppy at the same time. In an interview, AC himself said that Shut Down The Streets “is all about birth, death, happiness and sadness, chronicling a time in my life where all those things had to learn to coexist side by side.” It shows. Simultaneously miserable and elated, this album wistfully pans through the whole spectrum of human emotion. It’s meandering, thoughtful, and makes you want to hug people.

Bottom line: for an enjoyable indie-rock album, listen to Shut Down The Streets. If you miss the New Pornographers, listen to Shut Down The Streets. Listen to this album the morning after a night of heavy drinking with good friends, with hot coffee in your hands and smeared makeup on your cheeks. It’ll do your body good.

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