There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The other New Pornographers are basically Carl “A.C.” Newman’s musical stag-night buddies: The indie supergroup temporarily inflates the boyish redhead’s songwriting personality, prodding him to make every tempo speedier and every melodic gesture more pronounced. The Slow Wonder—Newman’s solo debut, recorded with grant money from a Canadian arts foundation—is more the work of a gentleman in repose. The rhythms still rock and the riffs still crackle, but the lack of competition for the spotlight (no Neko Case, no Dan Bejar) leads Newman to draw from dustier garage-rock influences, AOR hits of the ’70s be damned. As a result, Wonder behaves like the album Robert Pollard has been trying to make since he was still a nobody—the one that lasts 34 minutes, never gets too careful or too saccharine or too weird, and yet still manages to deliver 11 excellent and clever songs. The slowest tracks tend to be the most interesting, including “Most of Us Prizefighters,” which puts a simple melody over splashy cymbals and chugging chords, and “Drink to Me, Babe, Then,” which moves forward on floor-tom rhythms and woozy slide guitar. Newman’s more typical songwriting tics are present, too. The melody for album-closer “35 in the Shade” largely comes via monosyllabic words, giving the rumbling riff underneath more room to expand, and a few of the tracks are accented by New Wave–ish synth licks. Lyrically, Newman is still a moderately tough nut to crack. At times he’s literal, referring to a frustrated writer (“Miracle Drug”) or a wayward lover (“Come Crash”), but most of the time he dissects relationships and displays only some of the pieces: “Our time in hell/Has served us fine/At last alive/We’ll meet at five for this/Cocktails on me/We can light them on the count three,” he sings in a high pitch on “The Battle for Straight Time.” Not all of the imagery is as sharp, but it doesn’t have to be. The hooks almost always steal the moment.