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Aaron Freeman: Marvelous Clouds
For Aaron Freeman, whose last solo release was a 1987 cassette called Synthetic Socks, the songbook of Rod McKuen is a brilliant match: McKuen, the poet-king of kitsch-pop, and Freeman, “born” Gene Ween, stepping out to record under his own name for the first time. Building an identity for the past 28 years as the Boognish-worshipping and funny-voice-affecting Gener, Freeman has always been versatile, but McKuen’s songs are hardly a stretch. They are, in Ween-speak, massively brown, streaked with ugly unhipness, but there are also moments of raw and personal humanity. “I’ve never been able to push the clouds away myself, help me, please,” Freeman sing-speaks at the end of “Pushing the Clouds ,” a half-spoken piece that plays like the sonic version of Painter of Light™ Thomas Kinkade.
Freeman’s particular gift with McKuen’s material is precisely that he doesn’t try to modernize McKuen’s melodrama into something old and secretly hip, but something old and secretly weird. As in Ween, there is irony (and fun!) aplenty. But, with each song, there is also a visible and sincere seeming reason why Freeman may’ve been drawn to it. “My mother the swan has left me and gone, my home is the banks of the stream,” he sings on the title cut, just before the song opens up into a soaring and irresistible chorus, which Freeman delivers in only a slightly funny voice, like a guitarist who has only given the subtlest vibrato to a note. There is also a celesta solo. The whole album is like that. Not Kinkadelike at all, but with ever-subtler Mark Rothko-like shades of brown. For those fond of Ween’s Mollusk-era plunge into airy light-prog, Marvelous Clouds is a blessing.
The album is also the kind of deep focus work—in this case, into kitsch—that might not be possible inside Ween’s current rock-grounded incarnation. (They haven’t recorded anything new since 2007’s La Cucaracha. ) Though McKuen’s sadness was laced with optimism— he retired in 1981—he soon announced that he’d been diagnosed with clinical depression. Freeman has had his own struggles, including a well-YouTubed onstage meltdown, but one hopes that his irony might shield him from deeper damage. Marvelous Clouds is a hopeful liftoff.
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