Effortless Poetics In New Folk
Aimee Mann delivers a smooth, rich alto throughout her new album Mental Illness. The album features Mann’s effortless poetics and intriguing turn of phrase. Her lilting low register provides a soothing and complex ambience. Her lyrics fit together like pieces of a puzzle in rhythms employing syncopation where it is needed, but also a general feeling that everything at once comes back to meter. Appreciation of her clever and imagery-rich lyricism paints a picture of an overactive mind that worries constantly and is unfortunately no stranger to disappointment, requiring a deconstruction of several layers of deceptively uncomplicated instrumentation. An idiosyncrasy of the album, and perhaps the genre, is a propensity to reprise certain poetic lines at the end of a song as a sort of lyrical tag, leaving the listener with a particularly irresolute feeling.
The principle instrument here is the acoustic guitar, giving Mann’s newest work the backbone of a blended lovechild of traditional and revivalist folk. Her lead vocals converse with backing vocals that range from ethereal to seductive and her own sound, while pointedly unique even within the modern indie folk scene, evokes the sounds of such artists as Brandi Carlile, Nora Jones and Sarah McLachlan, as well as being in dialogue with newer folksy artists like the young duo only known as Lily and Madeleine.
With its myriad influences and evocations, one may forget to appreciate the instrumentation of Mental Illness beyond the almost requisite guitar. Several songs on the album feature lustrous strings, bass and percussion which complement Mann’s usually simple strumming patterns. One track begins sublimely with the tones of bells. Piano parts on many tracks are equal parts fluttering and grounding. “Bad Judge,” the album’s closing track, tells a familiar story with the feeling of a piano ballad. Contrastingly, “Patient Zero” features sparing piano and sliding, surprising string glissandos. Mental Illness is a full-bodied album with great lyrical and instrumental complexity and unexpected richness of sound and mood.