Music Reviews

posted: September 18, 2012

Aimee Mann and Corin Tucker’s Latest… Aimee Mann - Charmer, Corin Tucker Band - Kill My Blues

Aimee Mann and Corin Tucker’s Latest…

There’s plenty of trouble in these two records.

It’s there on Corin Tucker Band’s “Neskowin,” where the dressed-to-impressed teenage girls brag that they enjoy “other toys, other faculties,” and it shows up again on Aimee Mann’s “Gumby,” via a father with questionable intentions who gets chastised by Mann. “Don’t call me,” she sings, “call your daughter.” Adolescence, it seems, never truly gets old.

The connections between veteran artists Mann and Tucker aren’t direct. Both have guested on IFC’s “Portlandia,” which stars Tucker’s Sleater-Kinney bandmate Carrie Brownstein. But that’s about it. Musically, these days, Mann favors calm, cool, and curt, playing the role of a storyteller with a last line that lingers long after it’s sung. Tucker still prefers it loud, with lyrics shouted and experimentation pertaining to a bluesier variety.

If the songs on these respective albums, each one essentially a character study, were turned into independent films, Mann’s would be patient, with sharp dialogue and awkward pauses, whereas Tucker’s would boast crude, documentary-like cuts. Yet it’s rare to find two records with such grown-up perspectives, each a reflection on lessons learned from a vantage point that no longer has room for idealism.

Tucker immediately sings of aspirations she left in a drawer, daydreaming of the woman president who has yet to be elected in “Groundhog Day.” Later, in “Joey,” she wonders what happened to an old flame now that she and him are both grown up. The two cuts represent some of the slower offerings on Kill My Blues, but they’re each tightly wound, with basement-heavy drums and melodic riffs countered with spindly webs of guitar notes.

On “Outgoing Message,” connections are missed amidst gleaming keyboards, and the same instrument creates something far more troubling—and almost foreign—between the stops and starts of “Constance.” The tune nearly veers into 60s psychedelics save for Tucker’s self-assured guitar kicking it back into more familiar punk-rock territory, leaving only the uncomfortable imagery of an empty house in its wake.

Teenage girls are referenced numerous times throughout Kill My Blues, be it the windows-down, bang-up rock n’ roll groove of ‘Neskowin” or wicked-witch intro of “None Like You,” where Tucker goes so far as to  sing, “come gather children.” It soon gets less weird, thanks in part to the blast of guitars and sing-along “ba-bas.” Still, throughout this song and the album, one senses Tucker is directing these songs toward someone younger.

The same feeling permeates each and every track of Mann’s Charmer, which possesses a cleaner, more midtempo vibe—but no less of a thought-provoking center. The title track arrives as one of the friskiest songs, and Mann lays out her thesis here, noting that “secretly, charmers feel like they’re frauds.” One song later, she gets to the heart of the matter. ”I’ve joined the cue of people dead to you,” she confesses in “Disappeared,” wondering over echoing guitars how she lost a long-time friend.

Mann has more fun over the spacey synths, jingle-jangle cymbals, and “woo-woos” of “Crazytown,” the title of which stands for the place of residence for most of the women her male friends keep chasing. But hopefully, her single friends will hear “Living a Lie,” a guitar-buzzing duet with the Shins’ James Mercer in which the lives of those coupled-up are far more lonely than those of folks on their own.

With all this adult anxiety around, it’s no wonder that each artist simply cuts loose at one point. Mann gives into studio effects on the catchy, sci-fi warfare of “Gamma Ray,” and Tucker writes a kiss-off to the ghost of her past in “No Bad News Tonight,” an old-fashioned two-minute jam on which she just wants everyone to stop over-thinking. Talk about a life lesson worth trying to remember.

–Todd Martens