A.C. Newman – The Slow Wonder

A.C. Newman
The Slow Wonder

Power-pop is an oft ill-respected genre. After all, most of its output is trite, uninventive, and boring. Once in a good while, however, every genre is due for a bit of CPR by an intelligent, gifted songwriter. A.C. Newman, the current chief songwriter in the New Pornographers, has breathed a bit of life into the genre with his latest album, The Slow Wonder.

From the infectious drumbeat and fragmented rhythm of “Miracle Drug” to the wistful, smooth flow of “The Cloud Prayer,” The Slow Wonder is chock-full of catchy songs, off-kilter melodies, and A.C. Newman’s clever lyricism. “Drink to Me, Babe, Then” is a lethargic song seemingly capturing Newman in dream-state. He sounds barely able to breath, apparently having to struggle to exhale a story concerning such subject matter as “the boring choices rich kids choose.” “On the Table” is a piano-driven power-pop gem. Newman’s deft songwriting skill is apparent in the details: right before the refrain, a ghostly female chorus drifts in from above, only to be drowned out by the crashing cymbals of the refrain itself.

“The Battle for Straight Time” is the darkest song on the album. Foreboding chords announce the entry of a martial verse, while the chorus features crashing cymbals and big guitars. “Come Crash” is characterized by a cascading chorus; heavily distorted guitars spill downwards into the splash cymbals. The closer, “35 in the Shade,” is a rollicking power-pop masterpiece featuring rumbling drums and clever historical references.

The Slow Wonder’s best asset is not any particular song; rather, it is the album’s reliability. The sequencing of the album is superb; similar-sounding songs are sequestered to different parts of the record and the pace varies significantly. The successful sequencing and Newman’s ability to craft distinctive songs is vital to the replayability of the record; had some of the album’s more similar songs been placed in a row, The Slow Wonder could easily have quickly outworn its welcome.

In the end, while no one song may stand out immediately as incredible, the album as a whole is remarkable for its consistency and coherence. The album is served well by A.C. Newman’s bookishness and creativity; he operates strictly within the narrow confines of power-pop and manages to expand his sound into something greater than the sum of its parts. There is not a dud to be found on The Slow Wonder, and in a genre whose albums I usually find to be tiresome, that is a remarkable achievement.