It’s rare that I hear an indie release and immediately get excited. Generally they have to grow on me. I found “Mittens” while scanning the “indie” section after having clicked to sort everything by release date. This EP showed up in the top row, right next to the Pete Yorn album that came out two days ago. Oh, and by the way, when did Pete Yorn come to fit the definition of “indie”? He’s had four top-forty hits and made an album with Scarlett Johansson.
Enough digression. I’d never heard of Frank Turner before today. I soon learned in my reading that this EP is a companion to an album called Positive Songs for Negative People, his sixth studio album. I also bought that, but haven’t given it a listen yet. Before his six solo efforts, Turner was part of the post-hardcore punk band Million Dead.
Mittens features some of the most fantastic lyrics I’ve heard in a long while. The title track is about “taking a risk for someone and letting your guard down” and is apparently based on a true story. The song tells of his not receiving no reply from a love letter and becoming fascinated by used postcards, using the strangers’ messages as a surrogate. And regarding the line “we used to fit like mittens, but never like gloves”, who of us hasn’t been there?
“Least of All Young Caroline” is about encouraging someone that the future will be brighter when their current situation is a mess and that person is already on the brink of personal disaster. “Little Aphrodite” is very clever love song with a chorus written around characters of Greek mythology. It features only piano and vocal for most of the song, performed with excellent timing by a voice that sounds like wise reflection. “Cleopatra in Brooklyn” was written for the album Positive Songs for Negative People, but didn’t make the cut (also true for “Little Aphrodite”). This is the most “folk” sounding song on the album, but the pacing of the lyrics feels like a slowed-down hip-hop song, a nice twist.
The true winner on this EP, though, is “The Armadillo”, a cover song originally by Flanders & Swann. This song was originally bubbly and cute and something you’d expect to hear from one of those old wind-up phonographs with the big horn. Turner discards the goofy comedic chops and performs it more like a James Taylor song, but with just enough Warren Zevon intelligence to keep the song from getting syrupy. Turner’s version is less about the confused animal and more about that problem of knowing your friend’s new love interest is bad for them, and the quandry of whether or not to intervene.
The true measure of how much I like someone’s music is whether or not I’ll buy the record on vinyl. If the preceding album is as good as Mittens, I’ll be getting that one and I’ll also pick this one up of vinyl if it’s released.
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