Ann Magnuson - Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories

Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories cover art


CD: out of stock


I Met An Astronaut

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Ann Magnuson artist page

“Each song is a little gem, with the form embracing the content, like a Harry Winston setting embraces a three carat diamond. You must buy this record if you have any hope for the advancement of comic literacy.”
-Glenn O'Brien on

"(It's) like a wonderful Dadaist trip through the cabarets of Weimar Berlin, a decadent 1930s burlesque club, 70s glam orgies, 80s downtown NYC, and the hyperreal Los Angeles of today. All at once.. . . . . "
-Boing Boing

"Sequins on the outside, punk inside: Ann Magnuson wears irony well. She makes it sparkle and shimmer - seductively, seditiously."
-Daryl H. Miller, L.A. Times

"Ann's as sharp as ever...the first lady of post-punk social commentary long before Miss Cho or Sarah Silverman came along"
-BUST magazine

"Excellence Abounding. So instrumentally grandiose! Such exquisite melodic tension! You'd better be impressed, or I simply shan't speak to you any longer. NEW intelligent adult pop."
-Greg Burk (music critic for the L.A. Times, L.A. Weekly and Village Voice) on

"A wildly experimental mischief maker, (Magnuson's) schizophrenic career has explored the edges of both alternative performance art and mainstream media. (In one of her more infamous moves, she once staged a five-hour "Tribute to Muzak" in a Whitney Museum elevator.) Magnuson teams up with talented musical director Kristian Hoffman Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories. Billed as a "cabaret performance," Magnuson exercises her token razor-sharp wit in her ever-evolving one-woman show."

Ann Magnuson has a way with words and she isn’t afraid to use them. She introduces Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories, her latest treatise on love and relationships in her usual pithy manner: “Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories is a joy ride, with a few hairpin turns, that aims to take everyone on a musical journey from Seduction to Infatuation to Disassociative Hallucination. Navigating the ecstatic High Highs and the traumatic Low Lows that the world dishes out leads us to self-medication, self-delusion, self-examination and self-revelation. Then, with luck, release from that pesky bondage of self."
Ann Magnuson is an actress, singer, writer and performance artist with a feral imagination unfettered by convention or decorum. Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories combines Magnuson’s formidable musical, theatrical and lyrical instincts with the compositional and production muscle of Kristian Hoffman. (Hoffman was the keyboard player and songwriter of seminal punk band the Mumps. He wrote and arranged Klaus Nomi's pop hits, and led two infamous NYC bands - the Swinging Madisons and Bleaker Street Incident. He's also worked with Lydia Lunch and Dave Davies and as musical director for Rufus Wainwright, and has 3 acclaimed solo CDs in release.)

“I wanted this album to be very melodic which is why I wanted to work with Kristian,” Magnuson explains. “He wrote most of the music; a lush, Baroque pop sound that echoes the bands of the Sixties with a healthy dash of glam. His unique style helps to underscore the hallucinatory quality of the lyrics."
Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories is swirling confection of agitated pop and psychosexual angst sprinkled with sly humor and hard won wisdom. “There’s a lot of pain in the lyrics but the narrative runs on two tracks,” Magnuson says. “The darker moments are hopefully vanquished by the more pleasant aural aspects of the trip. Yet much of the excursion is implied. I like people to think for themselves. I don’t want to impose a meaning that robs the listener of the ability to bring his or her own experience to it.”

On Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories Magnuson’s vocals are never less than compelling; her voice is rich with arch humor, able to dip into a simmering lower register or jump to a jubilant cry of girlish delight. The songs tumble out in a luxuriant cornucopia of pop styles. There’s the Queen meets Left Banke swoon of “Falling for an Actor”, the ethereal twangy guitar waltz of “I Met An Astronaut” and the disturbingly sinister psychedelia of “The Picture on My Dentist's Wall”. “Full of Fuck” is snarling and funky, with girl-group-on-belladonna harmonies. The breezy Burt Bacharach homage “Just A Guy” is complimented by the melancholy music-box lament “Whatever Happened to New York” with guest harmony vocals by Rufus Wainwright. “Old Enuf 2 B Yer Mom” is an ode to younger men and their ephemeral delights, delivered with a bouncy Motown backbeat, while “Sky’s a-Cryin’” is an old-fashioned torch song with a wailing musical saw adding to its otherworldly ambience. The set wraps up with the hidden track “What Is Pretty?” Accompanied by a harp playing an Eric Satie-like melody, this spoken word piece tackles the big questions – our society’s queasy ballet of sex and violence; beauty and its meaning in a culture obsessed with youth; spirituality and aging in a world that values neither. And as promised, Magnuson emerges from the other side of the looking glass with her soul and sense of humor intact.
Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories is constructed thematically to mirror the ups and downs of romance: discovery, evolution, devolution and recovery. It walks the fine line between desire and abstinence, pleasure and pain; visiting all the twists and turns and triumphs of lavish excess on its way to maturity. Guest artists include: D.J. Bonebrake (X), drums, vibes; William Bongiovanni, bass; Jonathan Lea (The Jigsaw) guitars, sitar, banjolin, mandolin; Earle Mankey (Sparks) guitar; Lisa Jenio (Candy Pants), flute and The Chapin Sisters, backing vocals.

The music is complimented by the phantasmagoric artwork designed by Andrew Campbell and Doug Prinzivalli, with photography by Rocky Schenck. At the turn of the last century, when photography was young and spiritualism was on the rise, many people claimed to have photographed ectoplasm – the stuff of the soul - entering and/or leaving the human body. “I’ve been obsessed with pictures of ectoplasm since I was a kid,” Magnuson says. “The idea of free-floating ectoplasm connects well with the various ghosts and demons that haunt the protagonist who tells the ugly stories attached to these pretty melodies.”

Catalog Number: ASP 2036
Release Date: May 9, 2007

Track Listing

  1. Falling For An Actor
  2. Art Professor
  3. Disassociation
  4. I Met An Astronaut
  5. Sky's a-Cryin'
  6. The Picture on My Dentist's Wall
  7. Hey There Little Miss Pussy Pants
  8. Full of Fuck
  9. Just A Guy
  10. Whatever Happened to New York?
  11. Old Enuf 2 B Yer Mom
  12. Is This Heaven?
  13. Cynical Girl
  14. What is Pretty?