L.A.-based singer songwriter Eleni Mandell-who was once an X-worshipping punk fan before turning to mellower fare-is putting the sexy back in indie rock. Her latest album, Artificial Fire (a phrase she came up with while trying to translate the concept of pyrotechnics to a French-speaker), was released last month and harks back to her rockin’ roots. “I definitely have sort of come back around and embraced the music of my teenage years,” she said recently. “Even when I was touring for Miracle of Five, I was like, ‘I’m ready to go electric, guys. Let’s do this!'”
On the album’s title track, guitar lines slink around between the sultry melodies that Mandell delivers in deep alto, a sound as rich and bittersweet as the dark chocolate she references in her lyrics. Her songs are narratives of lust, guilt (“Am I just like him? Am I unfaithful, too?”), and longing, each delivered with an indie-rock spin.
On “Personal,” Mandell begins by listing some of her attributes, much like a personal ad (“My eyes are the color of martini olives”), then evolves the story into the tale of a complicated breakup. “The song just took on its own life,” she explained. “And one thing I love about songwriting is, you think you know what you’re doing, but really this unconscious thing takes over and the song often leads you to a certain place that you didn’t know you were going to.”
Strangely, with seven albums, she’s perhaps attracted the most attention for contributing a 30-second cut to a Carl’s Jr. commercial featuring Paris Hilton. In a weird way, the ad resonates with Mandell’s career and music. It’s a juicy cocktail of jazz, glamour, commerciality, and fearlessness that she insists has nothing to do with her life.
In fact, that DJ Bonebrake from X currently drums for her touring band speaks more to Mandell’s roots-not to mention how far she’s come. “I wish I could go back and tell my thirteen-year-old self what was going to happen.” Mandell plays the Mercury Lounge (5871 Hollister Ave.) on Wednesday, March 18, at 9 p.m. Call 967-0907 or visit clubmercy.com for details.