Eleni Mandell – [Album]

Tuesday, 03 March 2009

In New York City in the 1970s, a fledgling writer, a bookstore employee and a chronically unemployed street urchin all became inspired by the French Symbolist authors of the nineteenth century that included Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine and Albert Camus and brought their own synthesis of those aesthetics to the stage with a garage-y rock n' roll backing. Those three punks – Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell – ended up making history by presenting an attractive aural amalgam of articulated beauty and youthful rebellion to receptive ears in the Bowery before seeding it through the rock n' roll landscape where it has been perennially rediscovered in the thirty-five years since. In that time, a who's who directory of musicians – from Tori Amos to Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Sonic Youth to Tiny Masters Of Today and legions more – have unearthed those same rough gems and come up with interpretations that are always unique but always shimmer with the same flecks power that made the originals so great.

After so so many turns through the rock tumbler over the years, the jagged edges of those first artifacts have become eroded away and smoothed from haphazard use. They're now very well polished and those beautiful gems are the ones that Eleni Mandell examines on Artificial Fire, her seventh album.

From the album's opening title track, listeners are presented with the image of Eleni Mandell as if standing in a lengthy and abstracted corridor that was once haunted by the gods of punk and whose marks have been left on the walls for posterity, but the refurbished continental confines bear little resemblance to the stinking SRO it once was. As a historian might, Mandell begins to examine those marks – a gaunt and angular line from Television, a psycho-sexual but soulful melody dropped by Smith into a puddle of Hell-ish poetry – and takes them out for air to see how they work before moving on to the next exhibit and repeating the same process. It's apparent right away that Artificial Fire will represent a process of discovery as much as it does a long-playing album, but that also means that listeners will invariably be caught scintillated to see what she comes up with.

They aren't left disappointed either. With so many years lapsed since these punk elements that drive the songs were first unearthed, Mandell is afforded the luxury of taking time for a thorough and very urbane examination, and it's certainly an engaging and fascinating one. Those listeners lucky enough to be peering over Mandell's shoulder as she molds these decades-old sounds into new shapes will be floored at the discovery that her treatments fit seamlessly into her existing off-beat, jazz-infused and incredibly intense delivery as well as re-defining the notions of what punk is and how it can be presented. With a lilting and melancholy tenor, the singer recalls the innate and resolved sadness of Edith Piaf and contrasts it against the smooth sonics which makes for an attractive and altruistic voice of heartbreak and instantly offers catharsis and consolation to listeners all too familiar with the feeling.

The paradox laced into Artificial Fire is that the polished sheen omnipresent in the songs gives the album a very cool and collected demeanor that often seems to coil and seethe, but never release – she resists the urge to simply go into full meltdown that is most obviously there. The tease and taunt available to the singer in remaining so sophisticated and metropolitan is just too great a plaything for the singer to let slip away and so, as close as she gets, Mandell never loses her cool and sly persona.

With Artificial Fire now on the books, Mandell finds herself in the enviable position of being able to follow the album with anything her imagination can summon. If she chooses to continue in this vein, she'll get no complaints because these results are just so smooth and easy to like. However, if she changes her mind and lets the whole thing burn on her next album, that will be just as good because, if it's even a little better than this, it will be a career-defining work.  


Eleni Mandell online

Eleni Mandell myspace


Artificial Fire is out now and available for purchase at Amazon.

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