Carl Newman, as he's been known for most of his career, has an estimable track record thanks to the estimable tracks he's placed on records by Zumpano and, especially, the New Pornographers. (Mass Romantic and Electric Version, issued in 2000 and 2003, respectively, provided all the pleasures promised by the latter group's name without so much wear and tear on the wrist.) On his first solo album, The Slow Wonder, Newman once again displays his knowledge of traditional pop songcraft, skipping from the relentlessly riffy "Miracle Drug" to the twangy/noisy depressiveness of "Come Crash" with ease and confidence. As always, there's plenty of focus on keyboard chording and Newman's distinctively reedy pipes. But because the disc's production mixes wit and weirdness in just the right proportions, Newman never falls into the Ben Folds Five trap of offering enthusiastic but degraded imitations of timeworn material. Instead, he tempers his classicist impulses with contemporary touches that keep Wonder firmly anchored in 2004 -- although it would likely have sounded just as good ten years ago, or ten years in the future. Turn on the A.C.
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