Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Aimee Mann, with Jonathan Coulton June 19 at White Eagle Hall

Aimee Mann
with Jonathan Coulton

WHEN: Tuesday, June 19, Doors 7pm / Show 8pm
White Eagle Hall, 337 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ

Aimee Mann drops by White Eagle Hall with classic songs as well as material from her latest album, the critically acclaimed Mental Illness; Jonathan Coulton, independent rocker and 2018 Tony Award nominee, opens.

Mann’s Mental Illness, her first album in five years, was released last year via her own SuperEgo Records. The record follows 2012's Charmer, which Rolling Stone proclaimed "shows off the more pop-oriented side to her usual acoustic tendencies." With this follow-up, she returns to a more musically soft-spoken but still lyrically barbed approach.

Mental Illness shows off Mann's rich, incisive and wry melancholia in an almost all-acoustic format, with a "finger-picky" style inspired by some of her favorite '60s and '70s folk-rock records, augmented by haunting strings arranged by her longtime producer, Paul Bryan. Additional players include: Jonathan Coulton on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, Jay Bellerose on drums, Jamie Edwards on piano, John Roderick as a co-writer and Ted Leo (who recently joined her in a joint side project, The Both) as a background singer.

On this eleven-track album, the Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning singer remains a student of human behavior, drawing not just on her own experiences to form the characters in the songs but tales told by friends. "I assume the brief on me is that people think that I write these really depressing songs," Mann says. "I don't know-people may have a different viewpoint-but that's my own interpretation of the cliché about me. So if they thought that my songs were very down-tempo, very depressing, very sad, and very acoustic, I thought I'd just give myself permission to write the saddest, slowest, most acoustic, if-they're-all-waltzes-so-be-it record I could ... I mean, calling it Mental Illness makes me laugh, because it is true, but it's so blunt that it's funny."

After several albums with Til Tuesday, Mann began her solo career in 1993 with the album Whatever and made a name for herself through her independent success and the founding of her record label, SuperEgo Records. In addition to her solo albums, she has appeared on many film soundtracks, most notably the song score for Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, with "Save Me" landing her Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song.

In 2014, Mann joined up with Ted Leo for a more rock-oriented duo project, releasing a self-titled album under the name The Both. Other extracurricular activities since Charmer ranged from playing herself on the hit TV series Portlandia to performing for President Obama and the First Lady at the White House. Named one of The Huffington Post's "13 Funny Musicians You Should Be Following On Twitter," Mann has gained a diehard social media following for her quick wit and stinging observation; find her on Twitter and Instagram.

In 2004, Jonathan Coulton was a techno-utopian. He had a job coding software, but for fun, he'd written some quirky pop songs-and in a bit of skipping-stone serendipity, he got invited to play them at a tech conference. When he sang the rhapsodic bridge of "Mandelbrot Set," a gorgeously articulated math equation, the audience jumped to their feet, clapping and screaming. Afterwards, Coulton watched a speech by Lawrence Lessig, in which the Harvard Law Professor described the Creative Commons: shared art, uploaded online, liberated from traditional copyright. When Coulton walked out into the cold Maine sunshine, he remembers, "It was like my head was on fire. I was like, holy shit, something is happening!" Suddenly, anyone could publish music. Between HTML, MP3s, and Paypal, you could build your own label. Podcasts were radio shows. The internet had just begun to blink fully awake, but already it was a tangle of creativity, turning strangers into a community.

At 34, married, with a newborn daughter, Coulton quit his day job. In 2005, he launched the Thing-A-Week Project, sparking a burst of productivity that turned him into a cult figure-online-famous. Coulton's 2011 album, Artificial Heart, was itself a jump away from explicit storytelling, a ferocious, elliptical rock-and-roll album made in collaboration with John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants. When that was done, Coulton felt like he'd never write a song again. As a hard reboot, he took an electronic music course in lower Manhattan, one that was dominated by 24-year-olds hammering together surreal tracks of dance music. Their waves of sonic mush and swooping arpeggios suggested a new path in. Coulton began experimenting with his sound, and those knob-tweaking games evolved, gradually, into a coded memoir about his own ambivalence about the future, soon.

In a linked graphic novel written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Albert Monteys, the songs of his latest album, Solid State, narrate a trippy epic, a psychedelic, futuristic narrative about two men whose fates are linked over time (and who are both, as it happens, named Bob) and the God-like artificial intelligence that both protects and abandons them. It's a Neal Stephenson/Ray Kurzweil/Kevin Kelly-inflected fable that is located at the end of the world, much of it deep inside a city that has been sedated by what Coulton calls "nicey-nice fascism"-locked-in, medicated, machine-run-and which is ringed by a raw, ruined apocalyptic landscape. The graphic novel is a story about how we got there from here.

Coulton was recently named a 2018 Tony Award nominee for his scoring work on the Broadway production SpongeBob SquarePants.