Music

The Both: The Both

Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are a perfect pairing on their new band's immensely likeable debut.


The Both

The Both

US Release: 2014-04-15
UK Release: 2014-04-15
Label: SuperEgo
Amazon
iTunes

Before I get to the debut from Aimee Mann and Ted Leo's new band, I should explain Milwaukeeans' fraught relationship with TV sitcoms. Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley remain the Cream City's most indelible pop culture touchstones for the American public, but there's far from unanimous local love for Garry Marshall's favorite sons and daughters. And why should there be? These are Hollywood relics of four decades ago (six if you go by era depicted), and lazy touring acts still can't resist making boring Ralph Malph references. Opinion is certainly split on a particular bronze statue that's alternately blighted and delighted the Milwaukee Riverwalk since 2008. So, as an ex-Milwaukeean of many years, my reaction to the Both's debut single, "Milwaukee", which name drops the infamous Bronze Fonz should theoretically be complicated and critical, aloof and maybe even a little snotty. But it's absolutely none of these things, because "Milwaukee" and The Both are endearing triumphs, suffused with the joyous positivity of Leo's work and the warm humanity of Mann's without sacrificing the self-doubt and complications that run through both.

Mann and Leo make for an unexpected, but not entirely unintuitive, pairing on paper. In her solo work, Mann coats her explorations of loneliness and the harms people inflict on each other in honeyed pop. She lingers on cutting phrases from conversations and internal monologues, finessing them into earworms that invite commiseration, not wallowing. Leo's lyrical terrain is just as internal and interpersonal as Mann's, but where she refines, he elaborates and analyzes. He flits from thought to thought, stacking allusions over anxieties, reaching toward epiphanies only sometimes grasped. His frequent political subjects, work ethic, and tendency to bloody himself onstage have earned him any punk qualifiers you want to attach, but he channels them through an enviably huge record collection. Despite their differences in intensity and lyrical focus, though, these are two of pop's most humane artists, as interested in what heals us as what plagues us. Their songs aren't just music, but close confidantes who will listen to your problems, tell you theirs, and occasionally tell you to wise up, to pull on your boots and march, or, as they sing here, "come on back from the ledge for a spell"."

Still, you just don't expect artists with decades of distinct, well-developed styles to collaborate as well as Leo and Mann do. For Leo, this means cutting back on chord changes and hyperactive tempos, as well as stripping the political from the personal a tad more than usual. He's typically not one for straight-up character dramas along the lines of the dysfunctional relationship in "Pay for It" or the ode to isolation "You Can't Help Me Now", but this stuff is Mann's bread and butter, and he rises to her level admirably. Meanwhile, Mann sounds so at home with the uptempo tunes and rock guitar textures that it's a wonder she hasn't done it more often. She also indulges Leo his affinity for casually tossed-off ripping guitar solos and a few overt (if understated) political references. She gamely sings about marchers on Monsanto in "Hummingbird" and bops and harmonizes like a natural on "Milwaukee", the aforementioned beaming ray of Thin Lizzy shuffle-pop. Speaking of Thin Lizzy, an influence that's informed some of Leo's best material, the Both's cover of "Honesty Is No Excuse", a hopeful album cut from the Dublin band's '71 debut, blends seamlessly with their originals.

This just adds to the revelation that, as well as Mann and Leo collaborate on the songwriting front, they're even more potent as duet partners. They adopt such similar phrasings in their deliveries that, as the songs rattle around in your brain (as they do), you lose track of who sang which verse. And while it's a predictable device for virtually every chorus to inflate into full harmonizing, it's a potent one that turns "The Prisoner" from a pretty good album track into a highlight. It's tempting to play spot the primary artist on The Both, with "Milwaukee", "Volunteers of America", and "Bedtime Stories" the Leo-leaning songs and "You Can't Help Me Now", "No Sir", and "The Inevitable Shove" the obvious Mann tunes, but this understates the synergy of the project. The Both sounds so well-constructed that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that "Volunteers", which would sound musically at home on Leo's last album, began as Mann's attempt to meet her bandmate halfway.

The middle-ground approach does lead to some minor compromises. For instance, with Leo's rapidfire sociopolitics toned down and Mann's strengths less suited to the topical than the emotional, the respective messages in "Hummingbird" and "Volunteers of America" are muted into ambiguity. Is the former reserving some of the criticism aimed at Monsanto and the government for those who protest in futility; is the latter a sincere tribute to the faith-based charity or partially ironic? From a musical standpoint, it's also easy to wonder how "The Inevitable Shove" might have sounded had Mann and Leo gone with a more Pharmacists-esque take.

Nonetheless, The Both charms like few collaborations of its ilk, a side project that transcends dabbling and brings out the best in Leo and Mann. In their recounting of how the partnership began in "Milwaukee" (near that damn Fonzie statue), the Both report the inspiration for it as "a nucleus burning inside of a cell". The warmth carries through the entire album.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.