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May 9, 2017
Doors at 7 pm, Show at 8 pm | $33.50 | All Ages
The Neptune Theatre
1303 Northeast 45th Street
Seattle, WA 98105-4502
STG Presents & True West welcome Aimee Mann to The Neptune on May 9, 2017.
Interested in the full range of human faults, foibles, dysfunction, and self-delusion? You could spend your evening re-reading the DSM-IV Manual. Or you could opt to spend some time with an even more entertaining catalog of idiosyncracies: Charmer, the latest album from Aimee Mann, as fine a chronicler of the human comedy as popular music has produced. Names have been obscured to protect the guilty, but you will almost certainly recognize yourself in these short narratives, along with the fellow travelers who have conned, enabled, victimized, or (yes) charmed you.
Mann has the presence of mind to write songs about narcissists, which is a little different from the 90 percent of rock songs that are about being a narcissist. “The first song I wrote for the album was called ‘Charmer,’ so that’s kind of what started it,” she says. “And there are obviously songs that aren’t really on that topic, but it was a thing that I kept coming back to, because I do think people who are super-charming are really interesting. And I see how charm is on a continuum that goes all the way from people who can talk you out of anything to people who are manipulative to people who are almost a little sinister. They’re usually people who you really like being around in the beginning, because they’re really good at creating an impression that perhaps is tailor-made for you, and that’s very seductive.”
You might say it naturally follows that an album named Charmer would need to be musically seductive, as well. And this one certainly delivers its own charm offensive with a production style that sometimes harks back unabashedly to an earlier era, three decades or more ago, when electric guitars and synths walked the earth together in harmony. The full sound is in stark contrast to her much starker previous album, 2008’s Smilers, which was not so big on the new wave. She might even have been inspired by some fellow former Bostonites.
“This time, we bring the guitars back in.” she says, “and the bands we kind of listened to for reference were the Cars and Blondie and Split Enz. And ‘Jackie Blue’ by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, that awesome song—that was a big point of reference.” And she won’t disagree if you suggest that this might be her fullest-sounding album since the I’m With Stupid era. “I think if you’re emulating or inspired by that sort of era of radio pop, it’s just by nature more ‘produced.’ On the last record, our template was Area 51, because it was acoustic guitars and this kind of deserty, tumbleweed feel,” she laughs, “with synthesizers on top. This time, I wanted to use more analog synthesizers, because the music I was inspired by was that real ‘70s kind of thing. You know on Parallel Lines, when they were first putting synths in, but they were still being played almost like guitars? When I go back and listen to that stuff now, I go, ‘Oh, this is basically a rock band with just some bloopity bloopity keyboards on top.’” Make no mistake: “I love that,” she affirms. “I wanted to go back to: Remember when synthesizers were super-fun and brand new?”
Super-fun is not a term that everyone would expect to escape the lips of Mann, who well knows that she has an image—and possibly preternatural gift—for songs some would consider sad and downbeat. But there is a subtler kind of levity in her music that, followed to its natural end, leads to the kinship she feels with certain comedians and explains why she frequently does shows with the likes of Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins. And perhaps it explains why you’ll hear some of the biggest laughs this side of a Bridesmaids screening at a Mann show, sometimes arguably morose subject matter notwithstanding.
“There’s probably a little bit of relief of ‘Oh, I’m so glad that she’s not super-sour and depressed’—so any small joke, I get the laughter of relief, if it’s funny at all,” she says of the mood at her concerts. “Half the shows I still go, ‘Oh, I don’t know what to say,’ but I’ve definitely learned a lot from just being around comics. That’s not to say that I’m funny, but I think just being around it and adopting a little bit of a cadence or vernacular is helpful.” And the wit is certainly there in her songwriting, if you look for it. “There’s an irony that’s implicit through a lot of stuff. There is always a fair amount of moments where I write something that I suddenly realize is a very apt description of a situation that’s uncomfortable or horrible, but that the very accuracy of it makes me laugh, even though I can’t really expect that other people will. It’s a bit of a gallows humor, maybe.”