Review : Eleni Mandell - I Can See the Future
PopmattersEleni Mandell has always been a beacon of artistic integrity. It would have been easy for her to sell out long ago, with her stunning voice and songwriting chops, but she walks her own path, penning lyrics that are just a bit too biting and/or clever, and holding back just a smidgen when a lesser talent would attempt to blow the roof off the joint. Very inspirational indeed—and maybe a little crazy.
Now, for her eighth album, she’s gone and signed with Yep Roc—not the biggest label, but the largest she’s ever signed with. This is a step up, so this new record has a lot riding on it. I’m glad to report that she approaches her craft in the same off-center, off-kilter way she’s always done.
A wail of high lonesome feedback, a plucked guitar, and we’re off into “The Future”. It takes a little while to figure out this spooky and atmospheric tune. She’s on a solo road trip, getting away from her past by traveling north to “the old Hotel Arcada”, and then the verses always slow down so she can croon “I can see the future,” without actually telling us what that future is that she’s seen, what she plans to do and why, or anything else. It’s a frustrating and ambiguous and perfect artistic choice, and very Eleni Mandell.
More songs like this come up throughout the record. “Desert Song” is about as desolately lovely a folk song as one might expect a song called “Desert Song” might be: “I’ll never forget the way that you smiled / The sky turned purple, the winds went wild / I believe in miracles sometimes.” She barely sings at first, quiet and hesitant like she can’t let herself believe that she’s really truly left her troubles behind—but when she starts to open it up, you remember just how powerful her voice can be....full text
ConsequenceofsoundYou could be excused for believing that the land of the singer-songwriter is singularly populated by heartbreak, loss, and introspection. So it comes as a welcome change to find a piece of the West Coast occupied by an artist who seems at one with herself, content and reflective, and using that realization to move forward. LA native Eleni Mandell is a veteran of eight solo albums, the latest of which, I Can See The Future, leaves much of her darker back catalogue behind. The record follows Mandell’s decision to break up with her partner, who appeared less than ready for children, and start a family on her own, choosing an “astrophysicist who likes classic rock” (her words, according to a press release) as her sperm donor. Good call, then.
The album is a simple paean to the joys of motherhood and oozes contentment at every turn. The dream-like song “The Future” begins the record by setting a blissful tone that’s maintained throughout. Its opening couplet, “I want to fall in love again/ I know that it will happen,” neatly equates optimism with happiness. Even when contemplating past mistakes on songs like “Looking To Look For” or “Now We’re Strangers”, Mandell is keen to live the life she has now rather than dwell on one she might have had. Possibly the only time she drops this nostalgia guard is when she recalls halcyon days in the delightful “Magic Summertime”. So perfect is this slice of sugar-coated retro pop that Mandell gets away with rhyming “magical” with “tragical”.
Producer Joe Chiccarelli and a bunch of frontline LA players carefully embroider Mandell’s gentle love songs, whether it’s the spacey synths mixed into “The Future”, sumptuous pedal steel on “Desert Song”, or the quietly understated drums throughout. Eleni Mandell’s soft, honeyed vocals sit somewhere between Karen Carpenter and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Her voice glides from track to track, from pop to country, at times too mellow to register a break in the reverie she creates. Yet in a world overfed with gloom, it’s nice to see a future this bright....full text
AllmusicFar removed from the bluesy and jazzy, angular, noir-filled haze that hovered over much of 2009's Artificial Fire, 2012's I Can See the Future finds the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter grappling with the speed of life with a newfound grace and sensitivity. Flush with the overwhelming joy of motherhood and tempered by the gut punch of being newly single, I Can See the Future feels like a love letter to both, and Mandell, whose hushed and measured delivery has always hinted at the darker of the two forks in the road, sounds remarkably content. Lush, cinematic, and languid, songs like "The Future," with its angelic, Brian Eno-esque synth work, and the Roy Orbison-inspired "Don’t Say No" feel like late-afternoon, dead-of-summer hymns, while bouncier numbers like "Who You Gonna Dance With" and the warm and wonderful single "Magic Summertime" find their inspiration in classic Motown, soul, and Brill Building pop, layering sultry grooves with waves of fluttery organ and laid-back horns, sounding for all the world like they were unearthed from a lost Carly Simon or Dusty Springfield session. That said, for all of her torch singer sensibilities, Mandell's voice never rises above conversation level, resulting in a cool and collected vibe that permeates each and every track. Immaculately produced and performed, I Can See the Future is chock-full of breezy, likable retro-pop that's made for people who like their nostalgia delivered through the wonders of modern fidelity, and while it may put off, at first, those with a predilection for Mandell's darker side, it won't take but a spin or two make them see the light....full text
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