New Pornographers' Frontman A.c. Newman Leads This Week's New Releases 

A.C. Newman

Get Guilty

(Matador)

Carl Newman is the middle man in the New Pornographers. With Neko Case bringing the sweet and Dan Bejar providing the sour, Newman falls squarely in the center. He's a power-pop mastermind who isn't afraid to get weird once in awhile. He's also the one with most traditional hooks and sharpest sense of pop history. On his second solo album, he reflects on pre-Sgt. Pepper '60s rock 'n' roll with both revisionism and enthusiasm. Opener "There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve" boasts an orchestral bulge that gives way to relative sparseness on "The Heartbreak Rides." And on "The Palace at 4 A.M.," Newman goes literary deep. But Get Guilty is also an occasionally fussy record, revealing the studio stitches that help hold it together. Instruments are multi-layered, voices chime in harmony and nearly every song features a space-filling crescendo. It's a labor of joy that spills over onto every note. - Michael Gallucci

Tony Furtado

Deep Water

(Funzalo)

Tony Furtado's mastery of the strings is clear throughout his 14th album, as meandering instrumentals like opener "The Bawds of Euphony" or the awe-inspiring "Mississippi Sage" make clear how the now-veteran prodigy landed two National Bluegrass Banjo Championships by the age of 19. But it takes more than prodigious fretwork to woo the fickle masses. That's why, since those early days, Furtado has infused his banjo and slide-guitar work with earnest folksy vocals and touches of pop and jazz. This is where everything gets a little muddy. Some of the new non-instrumental material is clearly worthy of repeat listen. Furtado sings like Loudon Wainwright III on toned-down strummers like the title track, "Waste of the Moon" and "Every Little Crack. And he can get all Raymond Chandler-y like Wainwright too. On "Darkest Day," he sings, "I've seen my dreams slip miles away/All the brilliant colors fade to gray/I don't mind what unkind fools might say/You will guide me through my darkest day." But pure moments like these are sullied by barroom clunkers - like the flat, distortion-laden clusterfuck "Lighten Up Your Load," the old-guy rock of "Raise 'Em Up Together" or Jackson Browne-ish ho-hummery like "Tongue-Tied (Never Again)." Furtado should leave the rocking to those who can, and stick to the strings and the softer side of his vocal inclinations. That's where he shines. - Dan Harkins

The Bird and The Bee

Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future

(Blue Note)

After releasing the EP One Too Many Hearts on Valentine's Day 2008, this Los Angeles-based duo (Inara George and Greg Kurstin) emerges with a full-length disc drawn by their mutual love for both jazz standards and '70s electronica, a blend that has marked their career from the beginning. "Love Letter to Japan" features elements inspired by J-Pop (including a few words in Japanese). "Diamond Dave" talk sabout the fuzzy feeling that comes with rekindling love after a breakup. And "You're a Cad" is clearly influenced by '30s jazz but doesn't sound dated in spite of the uke and piano that give the song its flavor. The most surprising moment comes at the end. On "Lifespan of a Fly," George sings with the wisdom of someone who's lived a very long time and is ready to say goodbye to her loved ones. Listen also to the cheerful "Birthday," which celebrates not only the passing of the date itself but also a longtime relationship and the deep knowledge that comes with it. Ray Guns shows that the duo has evolved since they first appeared three years ago, but they haven't lost touch with their roots. - Ernest Barteldes

Matt and Kim

Grand

(Fader)

Matt and Kim have always been a fun band, the sort of basement novelty act that could make cynics smile and awkward kids dance. At the same time, the band's Nintendo-meets-punk-rock is hard to take seriously. After all, there's a point where an endless good time simply becomes endless. Maybe that's why Grand is such a surprising step forward. Yeah, there are still some pounding electro-rock numbers that seem fueled by nothing but sugar and nostalgia, but there are also a number of impressively well-crafted pop songs that branch out beyond the synth-filled slumber-party antics. The album opens with "Daylight," a track that recalls Toronto indie-pop group the Russian Futurists - if they cashed in their lo-fi obsession for pure excitement. An instantly appealing piano hook is complemented by some killer off-kilter stick-work on the drums and a controlled yet excitable melody. Other tracks like "Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare" and "Spare Change" reveal the duo's newfound penchant for detailed arranging. Matt and Kim haven't lost their spastic glory; they've just figured out how to channel it into songs that sound good even outside of a cramped basement. - Matt Whelihan

Various Artists:

Putumayo Presents African Reggae

(Putumayo)

Jamaican music has strongly influenced performers from the African continent who embraced the genre to convey their own music ideas. This new compilation features tunes in Portuguese, French and local languages spoken across the continent. "Bo Ten Qu' Luta," a Portuguese-Creole tune from Cape Verdean band One Love Family, is a call to action for people to fight for their rights in spite of the hardships that they might face. On the upbeat "Jabulani," South Africa's Zoro echoes Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" as he urges listeners to enjoy life even if times are tough. African instrumental influences are more obvious on Nino Galissa's "Krebo Cheo," which includes kora and plenty of percussive sounds, while Nigeria's Majek Fashek goes in more of a jazzy Afrobeat direction. African Reggae showcases how reggae has spread its wings and adapted to fit different musical tastes. - Barteldes

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