Pop maestro A.C. Newman temporarily sheds his bandmates and his penchant for complicated arrangements for a stripped-down second solo album.

AFTER FRONTING SEVERAL INDIE ROCK BANDS over the last two decades, singer-songwriter A.C. “Carl” Newman launched a solo career in 2004 with the release of the critically acclaimed The Slow Wonder. Now Newman returns with his sophomore outing, Get Guilty (Matador Records, $15), perhaps his most refined effort to date.

The Vancouver-bred, New York City–based Newman began work on the album in early 2008, playing most of the instruments himself -- save for the drums, the bulk of which were handled by Superchunk’s Jon Wurster. Eventually, he brought in a collection of collaborators, including pop chanteuse Nicole Atkins and husband-and-wife duo Mates of State, to decorate the songs. Newman has shifted his musical focus as well: Instead of using his typical big hooks and complex arrangements, he concentrates here on a batch of finely etched lyrics.

“I’ve never really thought lyrics were my thing,” he says. “Even [old] songs that people love -- it’s more of the sound of the words than the actual lyrics. But on this record, I really wanted to tighten up the narratives.”

Newman drew inspiration by immersing himself in the works of American novelists such as John Hawkes, Leonard Michaels, and William H. Gass. “If you read the work of people you love, it has a positive impact,” he says. “You can’t help but absorb the craft of those people.”

Although Newman will be touring in support of his solo disc in early 2009, he’s already hard at work on his next band project. “Music has become my job, which is great,” he says. “But there’s always that pressure to stay ahead of the game.”