Article - Eleni Mandell matures into her own teenage dreams

Singer/songwriter dabbles in pep and eccentricity

Los Angeles-based singer Eleni Mandell has always been a dabbler. While her rich voice served as a constant, Mandell has swung through various musical styles on her releases over the past decade. Her new album, Artificial Fire, finds Mandell combining her disparate interests into an upbeat, cohesive collection. "My early writing was so much about being sad and in turmoil, or angry," she says. "My younger self would be pleased that I decided to have fun and bring a lot of joy to the music."

Starting out with heavy, noirish rock and roll torch songs on early albums like Wishbone and Thrill, Mandell later conjured flirtatious Nashville on 2003's Country for True Lovers, sauntered through jazz on the following year's EP Maybe, Yes, and sang conventional songs-for-guitar on 2007's Miracle of Five. Then she also spends time with the Living Sisters and the Grabs, side projects that let her play around with straightforward, forceful pop-rock. These stylistic departures have been experiments for Mandell, who says she's eager to explore different emotions, ideas and sides of her personality through her music. Through it all, Mandell has rarely fallen flat, and her vintage leanings have avoided the sticky easiness of kitsch.

Artificial Fire, Mandell's seventh full-length album, was released earlier this year on the Canadian Zedtone label, and it synthesizes a number of her contrasting interests without seeming scattershot. "I Love Planet Earth" is a haunting, cinematic piece of atmospheric rock, while such a tune as "Right Side" offers summery rock and roll — a mood that expands into the more energetic "Bigger Burn" and the fiery "Cracked," a wry kiss-off of a song.

She credits the cohesion of the new album's tunes to her steady backing band, a group of guys she's locked in with over the years: bassist Ryan Feves, drummer Kevin Fitzgerald and guitarist Jeremy Drake.  "We're not a perfect family, but we're damn close," says Mandell. "I've always loved and trusted them as musicians, but I'd never witnessed songs come to life like this before. Our rehearsals were inspiring."

If Artificial Fire comes across as a return to the pep and eccentricity of Mandell's earlier albums, well, that was the intent. "I just wanted a change," she says. "I wanted to feel like I was in the band of my teenage dreams. I want people to hear this record and have fun, more of a good time." Teenage dreams may have provided the base, but Mandell's mature songwriting has become more seductive and dynamic than it's been in years.