Aimee Mann, Special guest Ted Leo - 10/17
at City Winery Chicago
About Aimee Mann
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.
Mann has been cast in a small role in an upcoming independent film, and she laughs about her thespian aspirations, or lack thereof. “There’s not weeping or anything” required in the role, she points out. “I think I look annoyed sometimes, which I feel like I could probably handle.” Possibly aside from a cameo in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, her best known part was playing herself in a celebrated episode of IFC’s Portlandia, in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are shocked to have hired one of their favorite singer/songwriters as a maid—and proceed to alternately worship and upbraid their heroine/housekeeper. “That was a true story: Carrie had hired a cleaning service and the girl who showed up was a singer in a band they liked. People love that show. I love that show. And yeah, more people have recognized me from Portlandia than music in the last year.”
About Ted Leo
Since the early '90s, Ted Leo has been one of the most progressive forces in East Coast independent music, with a unique combination of punk and folk, soul and hardcore, and tradition and experimentation. Originally rising to fame in the late-'80s New York hardcore scene by playing with Citizen's Arrest and Animal Crackers, Leo left New York for Washington, D.C., in 1990, when he founded and fronted Chisel, one of the first mod/punk revival outfits to gain national renown. Leo was the primary songwriter and singer of Chisel, recording two full-length records with the band which were released on Gern Blandsten in the mid-'90s and leading the band on countless short tours. The songwriting was as infectious and calculated as that of Brit rock legends the Kinks, yet the rhythms remained fueled by the anthemic energy reminiscent of bands like the Who and the Clash.