|by Blair Fraipont
|Aimee Mann @#%&! Smilers (SuperEgo Records)
Suggested alternative title: More Songs About Drugs and Indifference. This is her first non-concept record since 2000's Bachelor No. 2 and her first to exclude the heavier guitar sound that gave her last three albums an edge. Her insouciant drug-addled characters are familiar to her fans, same goes for her retro-pop hooks which fit her nonchalant singing style perfectly. 2005's The Forgotten Arm was influenced by early 70s rock and it still seems true here. Medicine Wheel takes a tip from the blue-eyed gospel of Someone Saved My Life Tonite and the mid-tempo brassy groove reminiscent of The Band.
The album, like most of her work, has the calming charm of coming down off of a high to realize your world's still in the gutter. The orchestrations that appear on half the record bring an added sadness to the already numbing lyrics. She ends the record on a deceptively upbeat tribute to a barfly with a duet by a Kermit-the-frog sound-a-like. I guess she's saying that the classic drunk is a funny kinda guy. So, @#%&! Smilers isn't all gloom and doom after all.
MGMT Oracular Spectacular (Columbia Records)
Two Brooklynites who announce in the first track that they are "fated to pretend" set the mood for the whole album: a mixed soundscape of dreams, desires and demons as produced by Flaming Lips hotshot Dave Fridmann. Unfortunately, when they get closest to the Lips they fail. When they aren't singing like muppets and prove to make a danceable beat or two their talent shines.
Time to Pretend is pure rock 'n roll fantasy: dreaming of scoring models for wives, doing drugs in foreign countries, etc. all executed over layers of synthesizers. From the static keyboard bass drones below to the chipper sounding hook on top, the song is vaguely memorable, but fun nonetheless. Weekend Wars offers an almost foreboding Bowie-esque look into the future accompanied by swirling keyboards and rhythm changes.
Electric Feel is the best cut. It is an eligible contender for best summer pop song, but probably will be ignored by the general public. Again, the static bass synth is complemented by a higher pitched and flowery sounding hook undulating around it. The mid-paced drumming march of the verses gives way to the shameless disco beat of the chorus. Part of the chorus vocals sound slowed down and replayed through an empty storage facility. Unfortunately, the remainder of the record isn't as marvelously catchy as the first half. Purchasing the CD is worth the admission price not only for the first five songs, but for the interactive video for this quirky debut's greatest moment. Check it out.
Blair Fraipont lives in New York City. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 09 July 11, 2008