The Circle Of Life, Pornographer Style
A.C. Newman’s latest album, Shut Down the Streets, somehow equally handles themes of life and death. The New Pornographers frontman tackles the two most opposite, emotionally saturated life events on this new record: the birth of his son, Stellan, and the death of his mother. But the product of these two seemingly contrasting subjects is perfectly cohesive, rather than at odds with itself. That cohesiveness comes from the overarching motif of celebration; tracks dedicated to Newman’s mother do not oppose those dedicated to his son. Each song poignantly and eloquently rejoices in the always-surprising and infallibly astounding miracle that is life.
Shut Down the Streets might have fallen victim to awkward division were it not for an artful, yet direct, lyricism. Newman explores the possibilities in store for young Stellan and himself in the delightful father-to-son “Money in New Wave” when he says, “I will say the kid needs learnin’, hoping that I have some good advice / Something you could win with, something true / Not exactly sure what I’ll do.” He doesn’t hide behind metaphor or wax philosophically on the meaning of his new paternal title. Instead, he admits to new-parent confusion and hopes for the best.
The title track is just as candid. With some harmonic help from Pornographers galpal Neko Case, the singer honors his dead mother: “All the bouquets piled on the doorstep / and pages filled with crayon hearts / that a second-grade class had made that day / because the teacher had to give in some small way.” The lack of lamentation here is as noteworthy, and appreciated, as the absence of fatherly wisdom in “Money in New Wave.” This image of 10-year olds crafting cards plays in listeners’ minds like a heartwarming home movie.
Heart wrenching, indeed. But by blending commemorative songs with those of hope, Newman creates a balanced, realistic album of which his mother and son could be proud.