A.C. Newman | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

A.C. Newman 

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It wasn't so long ago that Carl Newman had all but given up on a career as a musician, doing much of his playing as a product tester at a Vancouver guitar factory. His disillusionment was understandable following the untimely flameout of his mid-90s combo Zumpano. Hyped as the band that would lead Sub Pop into the post-Nirvana era, the group failed to win over postgrunge audiences with its Bacharach-meets-Zombies pop (apparently they preferred novelty acts like Nerf Herder and the Bloodhound Gang) and folded after just two records. Only with the improbable success of Canuck supergroup the New Pornographers, which Newman had started as a basement goof in 1996, was his borderline genius as a composer and arranger finally recognized. The estimable talents of Dan Bejar, Neko Case, and Kurt Dahle notwithstanding, the Pornographers' two LPs--2000's Mass Romantic and last year's Electric Version--are very much the product of Newman's acid wit and grandiose pop sensibility. These traits are found in somewhat muted form on his first solo album, The Slow Wonder (Matador), released in June under the name A.C. Newman. While some tracks ("Miracle Drug," "On the Table") would fit comfortably on either Pornographers record, for the most part he's clarified the elliptical wordplay, dialed back the sugar-rush choruses, and forgone the Spectorian flourishes in favor of subtler touches: the march of piano and percussion in "The Cloud Prayer," the keening cello riffs of "The Town Halo," the forlorn imagery of "Drink to Me, Babe, Then" and "Come Crash." While modesty of scale keeps it from reaching the level of past glories, Wonder is a deceptively rich effort, and at just 34 minutes it leaves you wanting more. Newman will perform with a full backing band. Rogue Wave (see Spot Check) and the Neins open. $10. Friday, August 6, 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton; 773-975-0505 or 800-594-8499.

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