Saying that A.C. Newman trades in a particularly cerebral school of near-power-pop is like saying (back in, oh I dunno, summer '08) that Barack Obama was a highly touted Senatorial newbie with aspirations to higher office: correct on the facts, but all wrong on emotional context. Newman writes pop songs like David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers write fiction: exhilarating tours de force that split the difference between highly intellectual cartwheeling and playful, devil-may-care insouciance, catchy ditties that trade in a certain form of psychological gamesmanship even as your toes are tapping out a ship-to-shore S.O.S.
Newman's second solo release under his given name, Get Guilty, is yet another chapter in his career-long Book of Dreams: a dozen tracks loaded for bear with the sort of verbal hijinks and high, hard hooks that fellow travelers such as the Shins, Broken West and Dr. Dog (hell, why not add the entirety of the Elephant Six posse while we're at it?) have traded in. Sometimes this takes the form of serial-killer melodies (the album's first single, "The Palace at 4 A.M.," is that classic smiling-to-keep-from-dying "sunny hook, meet cloudy conscience" that forms the basis of about 98% of the best pop music). At other times, it's about the wordplay buried in the hummability ("California had some casual bedlam/something in the basic swing of things led them to victimless crimes," Newman sings affably on the otherwise cutting ode to L.A. "The Heartbreak Rides"). And then there's the occasional flashes of craft — aided by Superchunk's/Mountain Goats’ Jon Wurster and solo artist Nicole Atkins — that turn a song like "There are Maybe Ten or Twelve" from a magisterial, thematic march into pure pop magic.
But that's just the thing, isn't it? The best artists are those that make their particular form of genius look like a casual sundown walk through the park. And while it's obvious that Newman cares very deeply about such old-fashioned notions as "craft" and "quality," at the end of the day, you just let the pure Posies pop of "All of My Days & All of My Days Off" or the wonder of a tune like "Prophets" carry you away on the glistening glissando of gliding guitar, like honey dripping lazily from perfectly-browned breakfast toast. And when you stop to think about it, that — like McCartney's Ram, Elliott Smith's Either/Or or Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything? — should be more than enough to get us through the next twelve months.