Oh neighbor to the north. Sometimes I question the quality of your popular culture exports. There have been your highs: Tim Hortons, "Degrassi Junior High" and ensuing follow-ups, and the radio show "Brave New Waves." I could go on, but your lows! Like this summer's package Barenaked Ladies/Alanis Morissette tour, bilingual infighting, or Jim Carrey (while a bankable star, can be so annoying)!
But that's why I'm so happy to report that your latest export, a certain A.C. Newman, has made the most amazing power-pop album I've heard all year. That's right, follow my example and take your Big Star, Matthew Sweet, and Posies albums out of the stereo (at least for a little while). Though he's certainly a valuable part of the New Pornographers, Newman striking out on his own has produced one of your country's greatest offerings to my stereo. I address this to you, Canada, because you officially get thanked in the liner notes. Apparently, you gave out money for this album to be made. Hurray! This is money well spent! And if you haven't already, as a government entity, purchased this album in bulk for all of your employees, then please take my advice and do so now.
Here's why I like this album so much. It shimmers, and is not at all formulaic. It's short, but somehow packs an amazing variety of sounds and styles into just over 30 minutes of musical fun. Its only weakness is that some of the songs, like "Most of Us Prizefighters," drag the tiniest bit. I can overlook this it's the most minor of flaws. And while some of you may miss the vocals that Neko Case provides on the New Pornographers albums, I promise Newman more than holds his own.
The Slow Wonder kicks off with "Miracle Drug," an amazing catchy number that I've listened to over and over. It's got harmony and high notes in the right places, and an infectious off-kilter beat. It's perfect, really. With poetic (and cryptic) lyrics like "He was tied to the bed with the miracle drug in one hand" and a rejected novel in the other, the drums and guitar hit hard on this one. And that bridge, the part that begins, "So why…," well, you just have to hear it. I haven't been able to get this song out of my head.
Canada, I know that's a high note, but the rest of the album doesn't lag. "On the Table" is another gem, though I don't understand its chorus of "Do re mi innocent." "The Battle for Straight Time" and "The Cloud Prayer" are strong tracks, with their falsettos and harmonies, chugging guitars, and the right amount of rhythm and solid melody. "The Town Halo" with its cello in all the right places, makes for a joyful ode to "our own girl, Jesus." The album wraps up with "35 in the Shade," where a missed opportunity for a ride home allows Newman to match wits with Cleopatra and her magic tricks. These songs are winners, all of 'em. The more I listen to them, the more I adore this album.
These songs are full of wonder, mystery, and love. What is your countryman looking for, Canada? A.C. Newman asks when it's going to happen to him in "Secretarial," but I'm pretty sure it already has. Canada, I hope you pin your hopes and dreams on this one. I couldn't ask for a better album to while away the rest of my summer hours.