A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets – LP
‘Shut Down The Streets’ (LP/CD/digital) is the most powerful and personal solo work to date from the New Pornographers’ founder. While Carl Newman long ago staked a claim for being one of North America’s finest pop craftsmen, ‘Streets’ represents a change in tone and a bigger change in subject matter. A year of joy and sorrow in the Newman household has inspired an album of understated elegance and strength. Fantastic lyrical chops and musical invention aren’t new territory for Carl, but writing so directly about the most important events in his adult life – the death of his mother and the birth of his first child – certainly are.
Recorded in Woodstock, NY and featuring longtime colleague Neko Case, ‘Streets’ bears the influence of classic ’70s folk and pop songwriters ranging from Gerry Rafferty to “Daylight Katy”-period Gordon Lightfoot. Summoning lush sonics with sweeping string & synth backgrounds that are miles away from his main band, The New Pornographers’ signature sound, ‘Shut Down The Streets’ is brutally honest, open and affecting in a way Newman has rarely been in the past.
Carl Newman founded The New Pornographers in Vancouver, Canada, bringing together an octet of ridiculously talented musicians including Dan Bejar (Destroyer), Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, John Collins, Kurt Dahle, Blaine Thurier and Todd Fancey. Having formed in 1997, they almost immediately recorded the classic song “Letter From An Occupant” and went on to release five wondrous albums (their 2000 debut ‘Mass Romantic’, 2003’s ‘Electric Version’, ‘Twin Cinema’ in 2005, 2007’s ‘Challengers’ and 2010’s ‘Together’). They received wild critical and public acclaim and they continue to enjoy bigger and bigger audiences around the world. Carl made his solo debut as A.C. Newman in 2004 with ‘The Slow Wonder’, which he followed up with ‘Get Guilty’ in 2009.
The album is bookmarked by starkly contrasting songs, starting with the blissful “I’m Not Talking” and ending with the title track, gorgeous and devastating in equal measure, which concerns the recent death of Newman’s mother, revealing one of the saddest, most direct and heartbreaking song he’s ever written.
But coping with death is only part of the message here; most of the rest of the songs celebrate new life, in the form of the birth of his son, Stellan, and the bucolic life Newman is carving out for his family in Woodstock, New York – what he calls “my private new world.” The shuffling gait and plinking keyboards of “You Could Get Lost Out Here” make clear that he is lost out there, and a little nervous for it, but also not a little exhilarated.
The true heart of ‘Shut Down the Streets’ might be “Strings” and “Hostages,” both exquisite and infectious, both expressly about Stellan, the latter described by Newman as “a straight-up joyous song,” the former based on this premise: “We wanted to have a baby so much that I made a promise to the world that I would never complain again if this wish was granted to us. Now that we’ve been given this, I constantly have to remind myself not to be full of shit and live by the promise that I made.”
With ‘Shut Down the Streets’, Carl Newman demonstrates his considerable songwriting skills, with gorgeously constructed pop songs imbued with wit and intelligence. With exquisite, sugary melodies and expertly melded boy-girl harmonies provided courtesy of Neko Case, the album showcases Newman as one of the most important and gifted songwriters of the new millennium.