Aimee Mann, Lost in Space (Superego)
With her fourth studio album, Aimee Mann continues to carve a niche for herself, a secluded little place where you can go and feel comfortable, reassure yourself that everything is okay, if just for a short time. While other female singers strut their sequined thighs across MTV, and hawk sugary soft drinks, Mann seems content to sit back and pen songs that don't align well with fast-food marketing plans, songs that seep slowly into your skin. And while Lost in Space is not morose per se, the tracks are slower and sadder, enough to get you pensive, enough to have you catalog your romantic past while staring blankly at a wall.
Mann uses a mixture of acoustic, electric guitars and keyboards to create an aural landscape that shifts and swoops, swelling at times while never really breaking loose. Along with her voice itself a subdued instrument the combination is seductive. Mann's vocals maintain a slight grittiness, a touch of sneer as they waver over and around notes. She may not necessarily be crying in her beer, but Mann has a slightly depressed tone to her voice as she tells the stories.
And it is her strength as a lyricist that propels the songs, emotionally charged tales of love and loss. On "Real Bad News" she begins, "You don't know/ So don't say you do/ You don't/ You might think that things will change/ But take my word/ They won't." No happy ending there. And just for grins, picture the following lyric from another singing sensation, "Oops, I did it again," and you'll recognize the difference in sophomoric pop versus the insightful and compelling work of Mann.
In terms of marketing, Mann may not be mainstream, or sell millions of units, or have her face associated with soft drinks, but that's okay. Because long after the sugar buzz has worn off, and you're in the need of mature, substantive songs to get you through the day, Mann will be quietly strumming away on her acoustic, cutting her own path in the pop world. It is a lonely world, and perhaps the disc's title, "Lost in Space," reflects her feelings on her journey. I don't know. I do know that Mann may be a hard star to see in the sky where brighter stars obscure others, but finding her in space is worth the effort.
Related Artists: Suzanne Vega
Stone Sour, Get Inside (Roadrunner)
Slipknot's frontman Corey Taylor is also the vocalist for Stone Sour, a band he formed with bassist Shawn Economaki back in '92, before Slipknot came together. And you'll also find guitarist James Root, another Slipknot bandmate, who joined Stone Sour in '95, before making the jump to Slipknot with Taylor. Confused?
Lineups aside, it's an interesting look into some of the forces behind Slipknot, and while there are similarities, there are also differences. The result is a disc that will please hardcore and metal fans alike. One of the things Stone Sour incorporates is a melodic twist to the songs. While the numbers are heavy and can thrash about from time to time, you'll also notice sounds along the lines of Alice in Chains (for the requisite vocal harmony in fifths), and songs that structurally hold to the standard mold more than the heavier stuff.
Perhaps the shift in sound is also due in part to the absence of a DJ (though Slipknot's Sid Wilson makes a few cameos), and thus random noises and scratching don't intrude on the mix. And, yes, you'll still find the language that'll make moms cover their kids' ears, and from time to time there are random audio snippets at the beginning of tracks (I still don't understand that practice), but Taylor doesn't insist on screaming the whole time. And his quote in the press release that the band's music is "melodic hard rock with content and initiative," which at first seems laughable, soon holds true as the disc plays out.
The band can even bring it down, as on "Bother," which begins slowly and cleanly, sounding like that Red Hot Chili Peppers hit from a few summers back, as, gulp, synthetic strings play away in the background. Is this the softer side of Slipknot? Undoubtedly, and the disc has a more balanced feel to it than, say, Slipknot's Iowa. Well, except for "Omega," a rambling, slightly psychotic spoken-word rant that sounds like a typical adolescent philosophy mixed with gun-and-gore references, plus profanity. Sheesh. But a song like the opening cut "Get Inside" shows the band knows how to put together an energetic rocker, and if they want to throw away a track with nonsensical rambling, that's okay. Long story short, you get some members of Slipknot, some heavy rock with a broad appeal, and a dozen tunes to bang your head to.
Related Artists: Slipknot
The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Warner Brothers)
On the Flaming Lips' 13th album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, love, sadness, and good versus evil are grappled with at cartoonishly epic degrees. Mike Ivins, Wayne Coyne, and Steven Drozd give us a healthy dose of John Denver-sensitivity, making songs melancholy yet sweet. There's a Ziggy Stardust spaceman-weirdness that sort of eclipses the John Denver thing, if you let it. But try not to. Parts of the album could land on one of those Time-Life compilations of songs to make love to in front of a fireplace in a log cabin. You know, the ones that feature songs by Ashford & Simpson and Roberta Flack. Singer Coyne's voice floats over growling computer noises and whooshing orchestral arrangements on "Do You Realize?," one of my favorite tracks of the year. The swell and grandeur of the music, chimes of bells, and quirky grace make it stand out.
Songs like "Are You a Hypnotist?" and "In the Morning of Magicians" get a kiss from Portishead in terms of mildly creepy electronic effects.
Recently, a fellow rock writer and I butted heads over this band. He said the lounge-y, ethereal thing was best done by bands like Radiohead and Granddaddy.
I begged to differ. The essence of the Flaming Lips is their ability to make a pretty record with a self-conscious dose of cheesiness and nonsense. Radiohead can't be cheesy. They're too busy being serious arteests. And that's all good and wonderful, but they could never pull off an album like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It's Swan Lake for the maladroit. Also, it's easy to affix yourself to Yoshimi as opposed to Radiohead's grossly obtuse Kid A. Coyne is so simple in his lyrics that their understated power blindsides you. It's a metaphor for life, I suppose. "I don't know how a man decides what's right for his own life/It's all a mystery," sings Coyne on the lead track, "Fight Test." Sci-fi spirituality and machine mysticism never sounded so good.
More Flaming Lips
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