BEST OF 2017: 7. Aimee Mann ‘Mental Illness’

Goose Snow Cone’ was enough to convince me. If you’re not familiar with this album then I imagine it will be enough for you too. It’s a pretty much perfect bit of songwriting. The melody is outrageously catchy, the arrangement perfectly matched and the performance utterly commanding. Having only really been aware of the odd track here and there from the previous twenty-four years of Aimee Mann’s solo career, this album caught me unawares. A couple of positive reviews flagged my attention when it came out and I fired up Spotify to see if the raving was warranted. By the time that truly stunning opening track had reached its conclusion, I had ordered the record and held off listening to the rest until it arrived. Thankfully, such cavalier record purchasing was rewarded with one of the most quietly affecting releases of 2017.

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Mental Illness’ is a largely sparse album, mainly driven by acoustic guitar or piano, with supporting strings deployed where appropriate. What percussive elements there are across these eleven songs keep a fairly low profile. ‘Simple Fix’ and ‘Lies Of Summer’ are the only tracks to feature conventional drums and they are arguably the least striking moments. ‘Poor Judge’ sounds like a classic handed down through the decades, stately piano and insistent violins accompanying a story of impaired perception borne of emotional baggage. ‘Knock It Off’ seems weary from the off, tired of the possessive character to whom it is being addressed.

Stuck In The Past’ is a gentle waltz that hinges on some gorgeous harmonies, while ‘Patient Zero’ uses a swaying melody and gleefully plucked strings to contrastingly tell the tale of an inevitable decline. The whole album conveys pithy stories with vivid imagery, the knack for unassumingly beautiful tunes providing a consistently beguiling framework. This is  a hard record to dip in and out of, so consuming and alluring is its environment. In a year of truly bleak news on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, ‘Mental Illness’ has often provided some urgent balm. You don’t need hyperbole from me to find this an essential record. It doesn’t particularly break new ground or fit into any specific scene. It’s just transparently, unquestionably great.

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