Aimee Mann’s album ‘Mental Illness’ offers somber serenades

Aimee Mann’s latest album, “Mental Illness,” is a beautifully sensible addition to her whopping nine-album discography.

Mann knows her sound and style and knows she doesn’t need to change things up or reinvent the wheel with her latest work. Long-time fans know her strength lies in her talents as a lyricist and ability to create a sense of intimacy with listeners. Mann’s sound can best be described as NPR-chic — perfect for the disillusioned intellectual we all so desperately want to be.

In an interview with her target demographic at NPR, she admits this album draws on the state of her mental health, a friend’s cat and former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield. Her oddball subject matter and scattered sense of place make sense with the album’s title.

“Goose Snow Cone,” the song which draws inspiration from a cat, is a soft opening to the album, and prepares listeners for the winding path into Mann’s moody musings with acoustic guitar, bells, string instruments and a male vocalist who perfectly matches Mann’s tone. It’s not too fussy without being dull, which is very on-brand.

It’s difficult to pick out the strongest pieces from “Mental Illness” because of how cohesive the album is. Each track evokes a clear feeling but tells an abstracted story. Songs like “You Never Loved Me” only give listeners a piece of the subject so while you can’t gather what fully happened, you can feel the weight behind her words. This style of writing feels right with the album title because even without a comprehensive understanding of the struggle, listeners can empathize with how difficult her struggle is.

Surprisingly, “Patient Zero,” stands out even though it’s hard to imagine such an emotionally provoking song about Andrew Garfield. It has the clearest story, lamenting the tragic nature of arriving in LA wide-eyed and excited, met with coldness from those around you. This track is everything you’d want from Mann. The words are heavy, but the instrumentals sound summery and warm. It’s definitely something you can happy-cry to.

“Philly Sinks” feels like a sonic brother to “Gumby” from Mann’s previous album, “Charmers.” Both tell tragic stories about the failings of men. It’s impressive how soothing Mann managed to make a song about alcoholism and failed relationships, but it serves as further proof of her compositional talent.

Mann’s sound is completely realized, and her magnetic voice makes it easy to slip into her world. Half an hour slips by while listening to “Mental Illness,” and in that time you’ll realize that the skilled lyricist operates in a league above the average musician. She’s an artist.

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