If there was a demand for an Aimee Mann cover singer, I’d make a killing.

Though she has avoided mainstream success for much of her career, Aimee Mann has been steadily and consistently releasing albums that showcase her gifted melodies, hard-hitting, emotional lyrics, and beautiful melodies.  She may not be the first singer you think of when you think of great pop/rock songwriters, but her work has been long-revered and critically acclaimed since her days with new-wave group ‘Til Tuesday.

I admittedly started in kind of a weird place with Mann’s work.  I watched Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Magnolia” one day while home sick, and I was immediately struck by the soundtrack, particularly the moment when the main cast members sing “Wise Up” during a montage that shows them at their rockiest points in the film.  It’s honestly one of the most beautifully sad moments I’ve ever witnessed in a film, and I was immediately on a search to find who created such a beautiful piece of music.

So, basically what I’m saying is, you should start with the “Magnolia” soundtrack.  Anderson wrote the film with Mann’s music in mind, and she in turn provided him with extra musical material for the film.  What you end up with is a solid group of songs, including the Oscar and Grammy nominated, brilliant, “Save Me”, that showcase Mann’s talent.  From the jazzy “Momentum” to the high-flying guitar solo of “Driving Sideways” to the piano-driver beauty of “Wise Up”, I still credit this soundtrack as one of her finest works, and an excellent springboard to the rest of her catalog.

From there, I personally tend to go with newer Mann.  @#%&*! Smilers is one of my favorite albums of the aughties, and features a beautiful collection of songs that range from the melancholy to the downright poppy.  Highlights include “31 Today”, which has a bitchin’ synth part, “Medicine Wheel”, a slowed-down, piano-driven track that evolves into a bright, uplifting jam, and lead single “Freeway”, which has a driving and melodic chorus that you’ll want to sing along with forever.  Her follow-up and most recent solo album, Charmer, maintains much the same tone and style as Smilers.  The lead single, “Charmer”, is a lot like “Freeway”, and while I think some were distracted by this, the rest of the album is solid, with songs like “Labrador” and “Living a Lie” taking the reigns (the latter is a duet with James Mercer of The Shins; it’s awesome).

She also has a deep back catalog, and I can safely say her work remains consistently good throughout with very few missteps.  I love The Forgotten Arm, a concept album riddled with boxing references that details the adventures of a couple who meet at a state fair and run away together.  I also love I’m With Stupid, which was released amid reports of Mann being upset with her record label (she now owns and operates her own label, SuperEgo). I find that some musician’s best work is found on albums made under record label duress, and Stupid is no exception.  “That’s Just What You Are” and “You Could Make a Killing” are two standout tracks, not only for the album, but for the entirety of Mann’s work.

My favorite thing in recent memory that she has done has been The Both, a duet project with Ted Leo.  I feel like The Both were some fever dream I had after seeing them tour together, and when I found out it was a real, actual project, I was obsessed.  Their debut album was incredible, and blends Leo’s brasher, more in-your-face tone with Mann’s gift for pop hooks and lighter melodies.  Their harmonies are pure insanity, particularly on songs like, “You Can’t Help Me Now” and “No Sir”.

Though she has been somewhat overshadowed by the mainstream, Mann has been consistently critically acclaimed for most of her career, and deservedly so.  Not many current songwriters know their way around a pop hook quite like she does, and her quirky stage presence and dry humor lend themselves amazingly well to live shows.  Dive right in, there’s so many great songs to sift through!

About The Author

Self-deprecating fundraising lackey, avocado connoisseur, pop culture aficionado, latte-drinking liberal elitist.

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