Beginner’s Guide to Aimee Mann

From a Berklee dropout to a Grammy Award-winner, Aimee Mann makes music she loves.

SHERYL_NIELDS

Aimee Mann is that sort of Indie musician that could have gone under the radar, but she hasn’t. Even with her softer voice and subtle reverb sound, the singer-songwriter gives depth, emotion, and energy to her work. Born in Midlothian, Virginia on this day (Sept. 8), Mann has had an interesting relationship with music. She apparently dropped out of the Berklee College of Music to join her boyfriend’s band, Young Snakes, in the 80s, and it seems that it did wonders for her songwriting, nurturing her talent more than any good lecture could have.

With so many musicians out there, new and old, and Indie becoming a powerhouse genre, it’s sometimes a wonder that old artists get newer, younger audiences. By the luck of checking out the nominees for the 60th Grammy Awards on Wikipedia, I found “Best Folk Album” under “Best Contemporary Blues Album” which went to Keb’ Mo’ and Taj Mahal. I don’t know whether it was the album art or my obsession with seeing which winner I would have chosen, but after hearing Mann’s Mental Illness, I caught her fever. Her music was so raw and honest, revealing her struggles in a beautiful way that wasn’t forced—it was soft, not whispery, but she spoke volumes.

And like Mann’s albums, her life was filled with trauma and some discord, too. After her parents divorced when she was 3, Mann’s mother and her new boyfriend kidnaped her, escaping to Europe. It was about a year later that her father’s private detective found the child in England and returned her to Virginia. And then she turned 12 and told her family she wanted to learn the bass guitar. Her idol was David Bowie after all. However, they didn’t think much of it at the time, and yet she continued to follow her passion. So it seems that staying true to one’s self and one’s dreams pays off in the end.


Mental Illness (2017)

Her best album (in my opinion), and a more approachable one, won a 2018 Grammy Award. It is filled with guitar and vocals that drift and glide and sound effortless while containing a vision that is personal, powerful, and relatable. At this time, Mann was going through some depression. Her music illustrates lost love and being in a mentally fragile state and plays on the idea of what “fixing” a relationship means (i.e. breaking up). The opening track “Goose Sow Cone” shimmers with guitar and really prepares the listener for what is to come. Also, it helps to know that Goose (via the music video) is a pet cat. In all, the album is wonderfully weird and personal, giving itself over to the listener to ponder and connect with.

– “Goose Snow Cone”

– “You Never Loved Me”

– “Patient Zero”

– “Simple Fix”


Charmer (2012)

For me, it’s hard to dive into the backlog of an artist because their sound may be completely different from where it is now, especially if it’s been several years since. But Charmer is a bit of a charmer; it is fun with piano and guitar and vocals that are classic Mann. It gives a sort of pop-Americana vibe, more upbeat, a sunnier version of the singer-songwriter. “Gumby” is a great single and really is a standout track that plays well in the ear. Though the lyrics in several of the songs are not as stinging or witty—having a sort of underlying jab to them—the music matches well, giving it an overall cohesive sound. Here she expands her sound but keeps true to herself.

– “Gumby”

– “Red Flag Driver”

– “Brother’s Keeper”


Bachelor No. 2 (2000)

A release that came out over 20 years ago, this is still very much Aimee Mann. It is more in-your-face than her newer works but still just as passionate in relaying her message and musical point of view. The dodo of the cover is said to reflect Mann’s sense that singer-songwriters “were a dying breed” in 2000. This album came out when she was dealing with issues with Geffen Records which had taken her on as an artist after the collapse of the previous one. There is a sort of anger that comes through the songs, but it’s never aimed at the listener; we are included in a combined frustration at the world. With a heavier sound that is more Rock, it is an interesting addition to her more folk-indie styles.

– “Calling It Quits”

– “Driving Sideways”

– “It Takes All Kinds”


Queens of the Summer Hotel (2021)

Her most recent release follows the same thematic line as her 2017 album. It too discusses mental illness. And no wonder, it’s music for the stage adaptation of Susannah Kaysen’s memoir, Girl, Interrupted. The theme of therapy, or recovery, of dealing with trauma solidifies the individual track to the whole. Not only are the individual tracks compelling, but Queens of the Summer Hotel is essentially one thoughtful composition as a whole. But by working through her demons, Mann achieves music that gives its all, and she, I believe, comes to terms with her own human faults. Acknowledgment, after all, is the first step to recovery. The album hits hard but is so gentle at the same time.

– “Give Me Fifteen”

– “I See You”

– “Burn It Out”

Konstantin Rega
A graduate of East Anglia’s renowned Creative Writing MA, Konstantin’s been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Poetry Salzburg Review, www.jonimitchell.com, the Republic of Consciousness Prize (etc.). He contributes to Publisher Weekly and Treblezine.
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