As the underrated leader of The New Pornographers, A.C. Newman doesn’t always receive the critical high marks that are often received by his bandmates, the theatrical Dan Bejar and the coy Neko Case. On Newman’s sophomore solo album, “Get Guilty,” the singer-songwriter proves that his lyrics are just as vivid and literate as anything Bejar has written for The New Pornographers, Destroyer or Swan Lake. Newman also shows that he can create heart-swelling vocals without the assistance of Case. After the overly sweet Pornographers album “Twin Cinema” and their even more disappointing follow-up “Challengers,” “Get Guilty” is a fine return to form for Newman. The best song on the album is “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer,” a track that includes some of Newman’s most poetic analogies: “Like a fourth wall, a car chase on blue screen, all eyes roll/ Like a snowfall that blankets the city, swallowed whole.” Bittersweet songs such as “Thunderbolts” and “Elemental” are also stand outs, and on these tracks Newman paints small canvas vignettes with skill equal to Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. Out of the twelve songs here, only “Submarines of Stockholm” and “Young Atlantis” are worth skipping on account of rushed pacing on the former and a sluggish gait on the latter. Here’s to hoping the next New Pornographers album sounds half as good as this strong solo record.
Despite his fast-growing popularity, two desperate arguments are frequently leveled at Andrew Bird’s music. One argument is that Bird sounds too much like his contemporary, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. However Bird’s voice and his music sound warmer and more inviting than anything by Stevens. Bird has a unique voice: gentle, strong, reassuring and confident, all at the same time. The second claim is that Bird’s lyrics include a vocabulary so intellectual that the singer must obviously be trying too hard. This is also an invalid argument, and the lush new Bird album, “Noble Beast,” leaves both arguments moot. On “Noble Beast,” Bird presents an emotional range in his vocals that seems to fit with every musical note as well as his so-called “esoteric” lyrics. The word “souverian” may seem like a big word to some unadventurous listeners, but when Bird sings the word it sounds more like “so very young” and so springs multiple meanings. Bird also skillfully makes transitions and shifts in his songs. The song “Master Swarm” gradually moves into a salsa-flavored flamenco feel only to end in rapid computer beeps and blips. Sly distorted guitar and haunting feedback seem to come out of nowhere on “Not a Robot, But a Ghost.”Bird regularly writes songs that have to do with animals, but he also has great insight into the human condition like on the mournful song “Effigy”: “Fake conversations on a nonexistent telephone/ Like the words of a man who’s spent a little too much time alone.” “Noble Beast” may stand as an apt title: Bird comes across as an intelligent, sensitive, maybe even chivalrous gentleman, while his layered sound seems to take on a life of its own, breathing in the beautiful world Bird describes.