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A.C. Newman 

The Slow Wonder (Matador)

A.C. Newman is better known as Carl Newman, the redheaded popsmith behind the New Pornographers. With his other band, Newman has written some of the purest, biggest pop songs in recent memory. He tones it down a bit on The Slow Wonder -- gone are the flurried synthesizers and the hook-heavy guitars that filled out those New Pornographers records -- and leaves us with a clear, undiluted picture of his considerable songwriting prowess.

The Slow Wonder has all the earmarks of a first solo record without sounding overdone. Different sounds and tempos are toyed with (a stately cello keeps time in the venomous "The Town Halo"). Newman is a master of organized chaos, and his solo outing never sounds cluttered or overwrought, despite having so much crammed into it. He also breaches that ironic distance between singer and song to allow some emotion into his songs, and "Come Crash," with its languid refrain of "Christine, come crash on my floor," is as broken and naked as we've heard him.

To call Newman's songs "catchy" is like calling Tom Waits' voice "gravelly": The adjective's become clichéd, but that doesn't make it any less true. Fans of the New Pornographers (and at last count, that was just about everybody) will find lots to love in The Slow Wonder. It's a perfect late-summer record, at once easy and wistful, powerful and reserved.

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