Aimee Mann | Charmer A Review

Aimee Mann is best known for her voice, which is instantly recognizable by anyone who has been listening to music for the past two decades. Her songs have appeared in many films and television series on account of their emotional lyrics and catchy hooks.  With her latest album titled Charmer, Mann delivers on past promises of sorrow as she almost always does in her albums.  Crooning alongside her for one song on the album is The Shins frontman James Mercer. The pairing does indeed produce excellent harmonies in their shared track Living a Lie, which makes one wonder why the last The Shins album was so underwhelming.   Perhaps Mercer needs a Mann like force in his musical life to inject some much needed melancholy because, as always, Mann’s songs are bursting with stories of misfortune.  

It might be an odd thing to point out but, Mann seems to have a bit of a thing for dogs, or at least songs that have canine imagery. Back in 2002 with her Lost in Space album she had Pavlvo’s Bell, a song about being trained to need something (in this case drugs) and the title itself refers to the famous Pavlov’s Bell experiment conducted with dogs and of course a bell. Now, with Mann’s latest album we have the track Labrador which is less about carrying out acts compulsively and more about being a good little pet and an emotional footstool.  Oddly, both songs are among the strongest on their respective albums.  No Aimee Mann album would be complete without a truly depressing track that somehow manages to make you feel better about your own life and for that look no further than Barfly

Aimee Mann isn’t getting any better at making music and that’s not necessarily a bad thing to say. She isn’t getting any better because she doesn’t need to, Mann has been at the top of her game for years and she doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing down.  


Neil Halstead | A Review of Palindrome Hunches

Neil Halstead is a British musician who is of the folk persuasion and is set to release a new album this September. His music is laced with calmly sung acoustic melodies often accompanied by piano interludes and the occasional violin.  All of these elements frame Halstead’s work as contemporary folk music.  Folk music is at its heart about telling cautionary tales and doing so in a style that is approachable. It invites you to join in and in a very real way, it’s expected that folk songs are to be passed along during get-togethers and times of fellowship.  Bob Dylan began his career as a folk musician, singing ancestral songs, only to make his own additions to the musical tome of folk. These songs became rallying points for a generation, to sing so that their themes and sentiments of warning could be passed on. Yes, times they were a-changin, but the more time passes the fewer things seem to actually change.  That being said, Neil Halstead does not seem to take very much from Dylan, he has his own voice and it is quite soft and inviting.

The songs that populate Palindrome Hunches are sometimes about love and loss but if the title song to this album is any indication Palindrome Hunches is about finding serenity in forgiveness. This serene sentiment can be heard in the way the piano genially plays in the background accompanied by Halstead’s lyrical bursts ranging from talk of a Toyota to the devil himself.  The overwhelming theme that continues to come back during this brief song is that you must forgive wonderings about unrealized daydreams and move on. (Or perhaps the song’s about nothing that is always a possibility.) However, if the theme of this album can be gleamed from the track Palindrome Hunches, then it is definitely about something and it definitely is worth listening to.  

Key tracks on Palindrome Hunches are, Digging Shelters, Wittgenstein’s Arm, Spin The Bottle and Palindrome Hunches


The Fresh & Onlys | A Review of Long Slow Dance

A quartet from California called The Fresh & Onlys are set to release their fourth album called Long Slow Dance. The band’s previous work has been more within the realm of low-fi psychedelic rock and although there are musical elements that hold fast to that style, this new album has a more refined sound.  Less background distortion and more smooth tones populate this new album, though the band still has a throwback style which calls to mind great acts such as Joy Division, New Order and sometimes even The Ramones.

 You can also tell that they have a real sense of how to write tight pop songs, loaded with compelling lyrical hooks and driven background percussion and synth.  One of the tracks, Presence of Mind has a breezy guitar portion and an occasional dose of synth percussion. Dream Girls takes on the idea of idealized women, how they ruin lives and have the run of the world while remaining completely intangible. The entire track has a hazy lighthearted pop song quality to it which is just very well done and is more reminiscent of the previous work.   The title track, Long Slow Dance, has vocal elements similar to what James Mercer from The Shins leans towards, however because it’s matched with a musical style that has very little in common with the now passé mid-00s brand of indie music, it allows the track to take on a stylistic identity of its own.     

Every once and a while a band releases an album that has a quality to it that makes it utterly listenable. Each track on Long Slow Dance has enough stylistic pull to allow individual songs to shine but result in a complete work that stands out among other recent albums. The Fresh & Onlys may have created one of the better albums to have come out so far this year with Long Slow Dance.