Posts tagged: Neko Case

A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

By , October 16, 2012 10:00 am

A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets

Matador 2012

Rating: 7/10

At this point, it’s hard for Carl Newman to defy the expectations automatically placed upon any album bearing his name. There are the two albums with Zumpano, a ‘90s power-pop outfit (see: Sloan, also of the Great White North, who did it better). The five eerily consistent albums with the New Pornographers, a Canadian power-pop “supergroup” who reasonably could only fall under that term if you were a fervent follower of obscure ‘90s indie acts or in tune with mildly popular transplanted alt-country singers. Now, with Shut Down the Streets, three albums of sparkling solo work, releases that tend to weigh heavily on the side of (surprise!) power-pop, while leaning ever so slightly towards the ‘70s singer-songwriter tropes that Newman has long worshipped and bolstered by a seemingly endless bag of hooks and melodies that would make Costello and McCartney proud. It’s perhaps a tragedy of the digital age that for over the course of all these songs Newman has cultivated a distinct identity that, in a different time, may have made him one of a generation’s truly great songsmiths; as it stands now, this consistency has nevertheless marked him as “that guy from the New Pornographers.” He is the straitlaced pop scholar to Dan Bejar’s schizophrenic genre outlaw, the driving engine behind the success of one of indie’s biggest millennial bands but never the kind to pull on any heartstrings, to really stand up and beg to be noticed. Shut Down the Streets is an album that longs to defeat that perception, to go onward into some brave new territory – hell, Newman seems to already be there on the album cover – but it can’t help but keep one foot in the past.

Easy signposts to point to for the album are the much-reported death of his mother and birth of his son, two seismic life events for any person, much less in such close proximity to each other and in the midst of that person recording an album. It’s easy because Newman has never been so heart-on-his-sleeve with his songwriting as he is here, holding forth on grief and newborn love with equal, unusual candor. The gradual triumphant swell that bubbles to the surface in album centerpiece “Strings” is far less deliberate than past major-key jubilations like Get Guilty’s “There Are Maybe Ten Or Twelve,” utilizing this album’s wider palette of sounds and instruments to a pronounced, organic effect. With it, the song’s understated chorus of “we’ve been waiting for you” is a heartbreakingly simple depiction of a father’s love rather than a bombastic, orchestrated declaration.

The album has a more bucolic tone than anything in Newman’s past work, a pastoral hue that calls to mind John Wesley Harding-era Bob Dylan and the work of New Pornos associate Neko Case (who is on board for some typically lovely harmonic contributions). Mixing elements of misty blue-eyed folk with his more typical baroque pop arrangements, that Americana edge that Newman has always tended so carefully yet shown so sparingly bears some pleasantly surprising fruit in tracks like “You Could Get Lost Out Here” and the rural jig of “The Troubadour.” Indeed, it’s the tracks that call to mind the past that tend to distract from the album’s overall feel. “Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns” is a prototypical New Pornographers single, right down to that rollicking backbeat, clink-your-PBRs-together chorus and Case’s howling backing vocals, while “There’s Money in New Wave” is just the kind of carefully enunciated twee ballad Newman can’t help but writing at least once an album. At other times, the album’s distinct style detracts from the song’s themselves: the woodwind that skips about merrily introducing “Hostages” is one such example, gone as abruptly as it is introduced until a brief reemergence in the second half, an outsized distraction in an otherwise unremarkable pop-rock tune.

While decidedly uneven and lacking in the sheer number of hooks a regular dose of Newman provides, Shut Down the Streets does have two of the best songs of his long career in opener “I’m Not Talking” and closer “They Should Have Shut Down the Streets.” The former is a master class in songwriting, something that sounds like it was lifted wholesale from some glen in the ‘60s, and the subtle percussion and even the damn woodwind build to something truly magical, that affecting assurance, “No, I’ve never been close, but I’ve never been far away.” The latter is a slow burning recollection of his mother’s death, as quiet and contemplative as “I’m Not Talking” is soaring and rhapsodic. Both are fundamentally melancholy but at opposite ends of the spectrum in tone and the feelings they engender. With two bookends like these, it’s perhaps too easy to write off everything in between as not up to snuff, and while that may be unfair, it’s also inevitable – it’s these scattered moments of brilliance that make everything else seem so inconsequential. Shut Down the Streets is no doubt a flawed record, but the more I listen to it the more I see not just A.C. Newman the preternaturally gifted power-pop auteur in its failures and its successes but also Carl Newman the person, more relatable than he has ever been before.

A.C. Newman may best be known as the leader of The New Pornographers, but he has also made much-loved solo albums. These show a more personal and intimate side to Carl's songwriting, and on Shut Down The Streets, recorded in Woodstock in Upstate New York, he is joined by longtime colleague Neko Case to make one of his most gorgeous, wide-ranging records yet.
List Price: $14.98 USD
New From: $8.52 USD In Stock
Used from: $3.48 USD In Stock

A.C. Newman – Strings

By , October 9, 2012 10:00 am

My favorite ginger is releasing his third solo album today, entitled Shut Down the Streets on Matador Records. A.C. Newman has always been the driving force behind the New Pornographers‘, the more straitlaced pop scholar to Dan Bejar’s crazy, off-kilter firebrand, and his solo work has always polished those pop instincts, oftentimes more contemplative and bucolic than his work with the New Pornos. Shut Down the Streets is probably his most mellow work yet, working in a wider palette of sounds and instruments than usual and keeping things at a steady, pastoral midtempo for much of the record. “Strings” is a perfect example, weaving slowly up through that plucked melody and booming percussion and some always welcome harmonies from fellow New Porno Neko Case, all accompanying a melody that keeps rising to a fulfilling, horn-drenched apex.

A.C. Newman – “Strings”

The New Pornographers – Together

By , May 4, 2010 12:00 pm

The New Pornographers – Together

Matador 2010

Rating: 7/10

New Pornographers frontman Carl Newman recently told Pitchfork in an interview that “sometimes the songs are definitely about something, but sometimes I just like the sound of things.” If there’s a better logic behind the long and impeccably catchy career of this indie-pop “supergroup,” I can’t find it. From 2000’s Mass Romantic to Together, the band has churned out some of the best, most intricate indie pop this side of Belle & Sebastian, but with a hell of a lot more muscle than most of their contemporaries. And it’s never been about just what exactly Newman or Neko Case or Dan Bejar have been trying to say, but rather how they’ve said it: in Case’s throaty, powerful vocals; through Bejar’s quirky, avant-pop compositions; via Newman’s distinctive brand of hyper-charged, sugar-rush pop. It’s fitting, then, that the appropriately named Together shows the band working more in sync with each other than ever before, following more along the softer side of things that Challengers explored but beefing up the hooks that that record so often lacked.

Together is nowhere near the relentless triumphs of Twin Cinema or Electric Version, but from a band that’s already made the defining power pop records of the decade, perhaps exploring new sounds isn’t so bad after all. And where Challengers ventured astray with songs that never really managed to stick, Together keeps it all from falling apart, whether it be on the hard-hitting glam-rock of thudding opener “Moves” or the riff-tastic sing-a-long “Your Hands (Together).” These are songs that throw everything and more into the melting pot of the New Pornos sound and come out the better for it. They rarely, if ever, mean anything – a song like “Silver Jenny Dollar” is so good precisely because it knows directly where the hook is and hits it hard and fast and generously, an even bigger surprise when you realize this is Dan Bejar, the New Pornos’ resident weirdo, making it to the money chorus in record time and feeling content to stay there. At times, this is a disappointment, as when a song like “If You Can’t See My Mirrors” reveals itself as perfectly acceptable pop in the realm of the New Pornos, but lacks that certain bite and vigor that made Bejar contributions like “Jackie Dressed in Cobras” or “Myriad Harbour” such rare treats.

At times, however, it seems like the New Pornos are content to rest on their laurels. Songs like “Up in the Dark” or “A Bite Out Of My Bed” would blow away their partners on any other rote power pop band’s record, but here they seem more like the New Pornos running through the motions than anything particularly groundbreaking. Despite it’s clear desire to be an epic closer in the vein of “Stacked Crooked,” “We End Up Together” really has no reason to extend past four minutes as egregiously as it does. Even songs like “Your Hands (Together)” seem like nothing special on first listen, requiring more than a few spins to appreciate the vocal interplay and the twining melodies. Thank God, then, for Neko Case, who explodes to the forefront on first single “Crash Years” and dominates Together as she has few New Pornos albums in recent memory. It’s her dynamic pipes that really hold the record together, whether in a lovely duet with Newman on “Valkyrie in the Roller Disco” or making the one-two punch of “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” and “My Shepherd” the centerpiece of the album. Bejar might not up to his usual tricks, but Case more than makes up for it – her songs are what lift Together out of what could have been another insipid Challengers-esque morass and turn it into something new, something unique, and something markedly powerful in a way the New Pornos haven’t been since 2005.

While Case might be the soul behind the best songs here, Together still comes off as the band’s strongest group effort, remarkable when one considers that many of their previous efforts could be characterized with “oh, that’s a Bejar song,” and “ that one is definitely all Carl.” Here, Bejar sounds like Newman and vice versa, and while Case is more than happy to take the lead, her constant backing work ties everything together effortlessly. It’s a record that, on first listen, doesn’t really mean much and rarely has a tune that stands out like previous, more straightforward New Pornos heavyweights, but on repeated listens bears some of the best fruit of their career. Again, Newman can describe the feel of the New Pornos distinctive sound better than I could: “when I’m depressed, I don’t want to express how depressed I am. I want to somehow make myself happier . . . I’ve always found I’m much happier when I’m happier.” There hasn’t been a better blueprint for the New Pornographers’ sound and mission, and, if all else fails, Together will certainly make you smile.

The New Pornographers – “Crash Years”

2010 release, the fifth album from Canadian-US collective The New Pornographers, featuring Neko Case and Destroyer's Dan Bejar, in addition to bandleader and chief songwriter A.C. Newman. Playing to all the New Pornographers strengths, Together combines the freewheeling, glammy spirit of their debut Mass Romantic with the very personal, emotional songwriting of their most recent material. As a result, it's an album that aims to please, as exciting for the New Pornographers obsessive as for casual new listeners.
List Price: $14.98 USD
New From: $6.99 USD In Stock
Used from: $3.71 USD In Stock

Best of 2009

By , January 1, 2010 12:00 pm

Better late than never! The top twenty albums of 2009 as chosen by Klap4music after countless hours of careful statistical analysis and scientific formulas to determine the best music of the year.


Kiss Kiss – The Meek Shall Inherit What’s Left

Eyeball Records

Released: July 7

Kiss Kiss don’t really have any idea what they’re going to be doing from one minute to the next, so it should come as no surprise that The Meek Shall Inherit What’s Left is a delightfully scrambled mess of an album, one that jumps from bouncy indie pop to quirky gypsy folk to outsized 16-minute concept tunes. But somehow everything holds together, making it a wonderfully effective blender of rock music.


M. Ward – Hold Time

Merge Records

Released: February 17

It’s become typical to expect excellence from M. Ward at this stage in career, but even so, Hold Time was a startling consistent example of beautifully refined Americana. His best since Transistor Radio, it’s an album that flows smoothly from one song to the next, a river of songs photographing classic American music as it rolls along.


Noah and the Whale – The First Days of Spring

Cherrytree Records

Released: October 6

Few bands could do such an abrupt about-face as Noah and the Whale do with their sophomore effort, but the London quintet pull it off in style. The First Days of Spring is the break-up record of the year, but it would be crushingly depressing if not for the vivid, pastoral soundscapes the band have masterfully crafted.


Manic Street Preachers – Journal for Plague Lovers


Released: May 18

It always seemed like the Preachers were searching for an identity to call their own after the disappearance of their heart and soul, frontman Richey Edwards. But Journal for Plague Lovers confidently stands tall among great Preacher records of the past, exorcizing Edwards’ ghost with his own lyrics and creating a modern rock record that blows away most of the newer competition, including many of their own previous works.


The Fiery Furnaces – I’m Going Away

Thrill Jockey

Released: July 21

Ever since Blueberry Boat, the Fiery Furnaces seemed to lose their way on latter albums, unable to reconcile the experimental brilliance of that album with the pop charm of Gallowsbird’s Bark, resulting in albums that were wildly uneven and even more challenging. But with their latest, the brother-sister duo has regained that middle ground wonderfully. I’m Going Away is their most accessible album in years, without losing that distinctive oddball charm and slice-of-life lyrics that has defined them.


Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing

Favorite Gentlemen

Released: April 21

Manchester Orchestra’s second album shows them maturing into something every fan of the band was desperately hoping for, the newest poet laureates of emotive indie rock. Singer and lyricist Andy Hull has sharpened his roiling tide of emotions into impassioned pleas and finely tuned angst, resulting in one of the year’s best songs (“I Can Feel A Hot One”) and a record that bodes so, so well for the future.


Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion


Released: January 6

It’s no surprise that Merriweather Post Pavilion became so wildly popular in indie circles – without losing any of the weirdness or experimental angles that have defined the band over the past decade, they successfully broadened their pop horizons, resulting in an extremely accessible record that appealed as much to the diehard fan as it did to the wannabe hipster. Perhaps the strangest success story of the year – after all, would anyone listening to Animal Collective in 2000 have predicted this level of success ten years later?


Portugal. The Man – The Satanic Satanist

Equal Vision

Released: July 21

An alt-rock record that never seems to struggle and definitely never wants for a tasty melody or grabbing hook, The Satanic Satanist is Portugal. The Man at their best, a melding of all their previous sounds into a record that could not sound more tossed-off or carefree if it tried. It’s a brilliant trick, one that results in an album that is as light and relaxing as it is refreshing and remarkably accomplished.


Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You


Released: February 9

While not as unique and defining as her debut, It’s Not Me, It’s You is the perfect pop album, mixing Lily Allen’s sizable amounts of sass and razor-sharp wit with superbly diverse production by Mark Ronson and songs that absolutely kill. Track after track is a potential hit single, perhaps derailed from commercial success only by Allen’s often-blunt lyrics. Then again, that’s what makes Lily such a treat in the whitewashed world of mainstream pop.


Mos Def – The Ecstatic


Released: June 9

This could very well be the comeback record of the year, and would easily have been the rap record of the year if it were any other year. Alas, 2009 was a special year in music, and The Ecstatic is no exception. Mos Def sounds rejuvenated, more centered in than he has in years, and the record’s confident tone and relentlessly ingenious beats and rhymes follow in turn.


The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

Capitol Records

Released: March 24

There’s been better Decemberists records, and there’s certainly been better concept records over the course of history, but The Hazards of Love is perfect at what it sets out to do: embody the Decemberists’ literary and musical ambitions in one giant song cycle. It’s the ultimate progression of the band’s sound, taking their penchant for wordy songs and long-winded stories and expanding it over the course of an entire album. It’s what the Decemberists were destined for, and in that respect it’s a fine piece of work. And while the story is a little half-baked, the songs are as epic and well done as ever, driving the story and resulting in some of the best instrumental work the band has ever put down.


Taken By Trees – East of Eden

Rough Trade

Released: September 8

Journeying to the East to find oneself has become as much of a cliché as any over the past few decades, as has recording one’s experiences there. Luckily for former Concretes’ frontwoman Victoria Bergsman, she seems to have sublimated all those Eastern influences into her own sound rather than just throwing in a few foreign instruments and styles onto her shiny brand of Swedish indie-pop. It’s a record that is almost impossible to place, the convergence of sounds and Bergsman’s own haunting vocals resulting in a mystical, almost timeless album, one just at home in the foothills of Pakistan as it is in the indie blogosphere.


Neko Case – Middle Cyclone


Released: March 3

While Middle Cyclone doesn’t quite approach the classic status of Case’s last record, the transcendent Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, it takes only three-and-a-half minutes to foresee it possibly attaining that stature. While the musicianship is top-notch and runs the gamut from smoky folk to woodsy Americana and straight-ahead rock, the focus remains, as always, on Case’s inimitable vocals. Opener “This Tornado Loves You” is proof of this and more, Case’s distinctive pipes highlighting a stormy mess of a song, one that revels in the passion of destruction as much as it does in love and longing.


Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!


Released: March 9

It’s Blitz! is perhaps the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ most complete record yet, one that runs the gamut of emotions and moods from the exhilarating opener “Zero” to the frighteningly effective, lullaby-esque closer “Little Shadow.” No longer can the Yeah Yeah Yeahs be accused of being just another one-dimensional New York garage rock band – from synth-filled new wave to mellow alt-rock to haunting ballads, It’s Blitz! is a multifaceted album that reveals more and more upon each successive listen. It shows a startling amount of growth for a band long relegated to one-hit wonder status, and gives hope that, yes, there is life after “Maps.”


Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

Shangri-La Music

Released: September 22

It didn’t come as a surprise that a collaboration between Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, M. Ward, and uber-producer Mike Mogis would be entertaining; what was a surprise, however, was just how good and refined Monsters of Folk ended up being, more the product of a long-time band than a supergroup thrown together for shits and gigs. It’s a minor miracle that the foursome are able to integrate all their own influences and ideas so seamlessly into the final product, a time capsule of classic Americana that manages to stand on its own, rather than the hodgepodge of styles one would expect. Best of all, that final product is the best example of pure, unadulterated American rock ‘n roll to come out all year.


Japandroids – Post-Nothing


Released: August 4

Post-Nothing is best taken straight, no chaser, with zero preconceptions or any hint of in-depth critical analysis upon first listen. All fuzzed-out guitars, straight-out-of-the-garage drums and vocals that, frankly, don’t give a damn, it’s the sound of youth and youth’s emotions at their most free, uncaged from any hint of adult restraint. It’s a record full of anthems and undeniably vital, practically bursting with life, energy, lust, you name it: and not ashamed of any of it.


Miike Snow – Miike Snow


Released: June 9

It’s a far cry from “Toxic,” but Bloodshy & Avant’s new side project (with singer Andrew Wyatt) is deliciously unfettered pop in its own way. Perhaps the best-produced album of the year, it flits from Vampire Weekend-esque indie (“Animal”) to gorgeous atmospherics (“Silvia”) to fantastically filthy electro-pop (“Black & Blue”) to haunting ballads (“Faker”), with the ease of a musical chameleon with a liking for keyboards. It’s an instant party starter, but at its heart it’s something more, an album built on a pop foundation but with multiple layers, a heart that values superior songwriting and grade-A production to shallow sentiments and mindless hooks.


Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II


Released: September 8

Raekwon’s latest is a shining reaffirmation of Wu-Tang dominance over the rap game; RZA’s production is his best work in years, the various guest spots all seem placed to perfection, speaking more to their lyrical abilities and personalities than any “oh, hey, look who we got to guest on this track” bullshit. Every spot here means something, and, more than that, every spot here frames and support the leader, the rapper whose flow and style defines this album and makes it a new rap classic. Raekwon is clearly at the top of his game here, delivering a conceptual story that wallows in the dirt and grime of New York and comes out reinvigorated in the end. The Wu are far from dead – indeed, this might be the strongest they’ve been all decade.


Florence and the Machine – Lungs


Released: July 6

The Voice is a major reason for this album’s success, but it’s not the only one. Just as importantly, the talented backing band does an excellent job transcribing Florence Welch’s uniquely powerful voice and haunting tone into the music. Lungs is an album as versatile as its namesake, from the thumping bombast of “Drumming Song” to the bluesy “Kiss With A Fist” to the ethereal buildup to “Between Two Lungs.” But that Voice! – from fierce to grieving to lusty, Welch is the driving force behind Lungs, one that at times seems to be like a force of nature, whirling from high to low with equal passion and equal ease. The debut of the year, and a very exciting one for the future.


Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

V2 Records

Released: May 26

When I first heard this record it certainly didn’t stand out to me as a potential Album of the Year candidate. And it still didn’t stand out after the second, third, or a dozen listens, but over the course of the summer the little things began to strike me as special, revealing a record full of layers I had previously dismissed in the guise of “just another dance-rock record.” It is a dance-rock record, and an exceptional one at that, but it’s the painstaking attention to detail, the relentlessly innovative beats and polished drumming, the appealingly earnest way these Frenchmen take English rock ‘n roll and make it their own, all these things and more that catapult Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix into a realm of its own. It’s the way the band breaks it down and then the multi-tracked harmonic guitar flies in over the end of “Lisztomania;” it’s the way “1901’s” chorus zooms in and out on the bass like a pneumatic hammer of pop as the synths take skyward; it’s the way the “Love Like A Sunset” suite resolves itself so beautifully in a haze of major-key watercolors; it’s the way singer Thomas Mars’ bares all in the heartbreaking shimmer of “Rome.” More than anything else, it’s a dance record that isn’t afraid to celebrate its own flaws, rejoicing in its ability to take a shallow genre and make something lasting, one that speaks as much to a person’s emotions as it does their feet. Here’s to my record of the year.

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

By , March 3, 2009 6:47 pm

Neko Case – Middle Cyclone

ANTI- 2009

Rating: 9/10


Alt-country chanteuse Neko Case has become more well known in alternative circles for her excellent vocal work with fellow Canadians the New Pornographers, but if you’re only familiar with her from that, you are sorely missing one of the great female talents in indie rock today. 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood was rightly hailed as one of the best albums of that year and her best to date, even hitting #54 on Billboard’s Top 200. And with this month’s Middle Cyclone, Case continues her ascent, creating a concise album of lightly country-flavored pop revolving around her distinctive alto and smart lyrics.

“This Tornado Loves You” is a soothing intro, opening with a chugging riff overlaid with tinkling, bright guitar licks and Case proclaiming “my love, I am the speed of sound” with that fairly flawless voice. The gradual buildup to the titular climactic chorus is propulsive and natural, leading Case to a question that seems to set up a challenge for the rest of the record: “what will make you believe me?”

Even more so than Fox Confessor, Middle Cyclone is permeated by nature in all its aspects, be it the careful warning of acoustic strummer “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” and its aching strings, to the literal chorus of frogs barely heard in the background of “Polar Nettles.” Part of this undoubtedly has to do with one of Case’s recording locations of choice: a dirt-floor barn in rural Vermont, where most of the piano was recorded. This, unfortunately, leads to the greatest misstep on the record, a completely ambient track of wildlife sounds in the pond outside of said farm, a track that falls just short of the 32-minute mark (!). Luckily, the pointless “song” closes out the album for optimal skipping ease, but it still mars an otherwise enjoyable record.

The success of Fox Confessor might have led Case to branch out even more here, trading in some of her oft-depressive Americana flavor for more lighthearted chamber-pop goodness. Just check out confident first single “People Got A Lotta Nerve,” which flows along on a jangly electric melody before erupting into Case’s obscenely catchy “I’m a man-man-man, man-man-man-eater” chorus. But her country-pop roots continue to remain her strongest point and an influence she does well to embrace, such as on the gentle finger-picking of ballad “Vengeance Is Sleeping” and the smoky folk of “Magpie To The Morning.”

With guests from M. Ward to Calexico, the album is a finely produced and colorful work, but it’s Case who steals the spotlight once again. Her voice is at the top of its game here; with only Ward’s guitar to accompany her on the title track, she effortlessly paints a picture of repressed love in imagery like “I lie across the path waiting / just for a chance to be a spiderweb / trapped in your lashes,” and in her cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” she is a comforting presence, her voice rising above swelling piano to assure that “you know I’ll think about you / let me know you’ll think about me too.”

Aside from the ill-advised nature “field recording” of closer “Marais La Nuit,” Middle Cyclone is remarkably short, with most songs ranging between two and three minutes. It is Case’s most solid album to date, a record that is gone almost before one realizes what they’ve just listened to and which merits repeated spins to appreciate it fully. It’s a cinematic record that wanes and waxes to its singer’s tunes, going from dauntless love to quiet, sultry melancholia with the ease of a well-practiced performer. An album that could hold its own against any of the New Pornos’ best, it’s sure to continue to establish Case as an accomplished artist on her own terms.

*Originally published in the Daily Trojan*

Panorama Theme by Themocracy