For once, the tired “supergroup” billing has—in the case of The New Pornographers—proven entirely accurate, a damn sight prophetic. Neko Case’s darkly beautiful, atmospheric alt.country albums are a given. But who could’ve predicted A.C. (Carl) Newman would release what might be the best indie pop album of 2004, his solo debut The Slow Wonder? And now NP guitarist Todd Fancey weighs in with his first solo album. How does it sound? Well, that depends. How do you react to MOR icons like The Carpenters, Bread and The Starland Vocal Band? If “Afternoon Delight” is a musical highlight for you, then it’s very fine indeed.
Fancey finds our intrepid guitarist in a smiley-face mood, revisiting the sounds of the feather-light rock of the early-to-mid ’70s. It’s decidedly sunnier fare than typical New Pornographers material, full of bubbly synths and bright harmonies (courtesy of Fancey and Sara Wheeler, playing the Karen Carpenter/Olivia Newton John role here), but no less full of memorable hooks. Fancey turns out to be a fine vocalist, a maverick Brian Wilson who pulls out the soaring falsetto whenever he can. He rocks out a bit with the insanely breezy opener “Carry Me,” turns in a goofy, bouncy driving tune on “Rock and Roll Rhythm,” and layers an entire Beach Boys chorale over the pedal steel-driven country rock of “In Town.”
The album’s seven remaining tunes follow the same mindless, well-crafted template. It’s all syrupy sweet goo, and you’re faced with a choice. Persisting in your indefatigable quest for new vistas of hip, you must solemnly swear to hate it, as your musical honor is at stake. But in your weaker moments, you will find yourself, maddeningly, humming it in the shower, in the kitchen, behind the wheel of your car. Don’t feel too bad, though. Skyrockets are in flight, all over again. Damn.