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Saturday, November 20, 2010

CD Review: Mini Mansions - s/t

Mini Mansions - s/t
2010 Rekords Rekords
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Alright, so this is anything but metal, but we're keen on Queens of the Stone Age over here, so it's Broaden Your Horizons time.

Picture if you will, an astute crossover between Abbey Road, The White Album and Pet Sounds merged with John Lennon's solo work and Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd with hidden sublets of Radiohead and Blur. Therein lies the expansive aural playground for Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman to dwell and frolic in as if he got lost on an isolated harbor inlet near Manchester and took inspiration in loneliness.

Funny how an L.A. cat manages to capture the smug spiral which entrapped Lennon and Barrett at their aloof best with the self-imprisonment of Brian Wilson's post "Fun Fun Fun" days, yet Shuman and his Mini Mansion ensemble (completed by Zach Dawes and Tyler Parkford) are goddamned startling in their emulation of a hallucinatory vibe central to its time and creation.

Mini Mansions goes beyond transcendentalism and strangely creates a new art in the way Britpop and alt verve has tried so hard since the nineties to become. As great as the Stone Roses, Oasis, Blur, World Party and Trail of Dead are, only Bigelf has managed to come close to capturing the "bigness" of such an understated projection. The White Album is so revered because it's as huge as it is deeply stripped and personal. People relate to that record, Sgt. Peppers and Abbey Road because The Beatles knew how to write for themselves and their audience. Taking a strange trip or two with Lennon guiding much of The Beatles' later years was easy to digest because the world empathized as much as they were being emapthized with in serenade.

Mini Mansions is not a reach out and grab ya kind of album, much as it took a number of spins to properly soak up The White Album and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, as it did Pink Floyd's Animals. There's a ton going on with Mini Mansions even with a purposeful low-fi cadence to it. The drums clop instead of rattle, much like Ringo Starr. Bass vibrates, guitars toke and swoon, and vocally, oh my...where in the name of Barrett and Lennon did all of this come from?

This album lumbers and shuffles in a haze in a way even the famed shoegazing bands like Lush, My Bloody Valentine and Ride can't even match. Its only rival is its originating source. "Girls" might as well be called a lost White Album relic, while "Crime of the Season" ca-ca-ca-carouses on the thrust of a parade kick well at-home on Abbey Road or Sgt. Peppers. "The Room Outside" is an amalgam of Pink Floyd psychedelics, Beach Boys acapella (lofting in a breathy optimism beneath the globular murk) and a stamping Peppers march completed by some freaky Lennon whoa-ahh-whooas and trippy guitar rips.

Seriously, it's frightening how accurate Michael Shuman and Mini Mansions create a dark side to Lucy's diamond-filled sky by sprinkling in dashes of Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds pity party. Splashing "Crime of the Season" with a snarky horn section and some happy-go-lucky McCartney bass lines, those are the subtleties to this morose-yet-catchy album. On the top is a series of sixties-flavored hooks and atmospherics joined together by drum machine (sounding dubiously like those tacked upon Kimball organs) and dreamy guitar vignettes ala Blur. Add some snaggletoothed prose and Mini Mansions takes Bigelf's big tent throwback special back to its English roots.

The gorgeous and Gothic "Seven Sons" is what the nineties Lennon acolytes wished they could've been. It boasts the most contemporary sound Mini Mansions has to offer, and still it wields an uppity retro haunt that will have you feeling the need to pay respects at Strawberry Fields. To think one group could beget such future genius (borrowed as it may be), it demands salutation.

Shuman is in love with John Lennon, there's no doubt about it. Unlike most everyone seeking to tributize The Beatles in their music, Mini Mansions achieves its objective in the most original, Moog-laced, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" code of conduct it possibly can. "Kiddie Hypnogogia" and "Majik Marker" are kissed by the same otherworld sanctum where Lennon and Barrett are likely twirling their thumbs and watching their craft become reinvented timeless once again. Mini Mansions is alarming upon first listen, but it will one day grow to become an underground classic in a music world that only appreciates the hits of The Beatles, Floyd and the Beach Boys instead of the deep-planted nuances which truly made them all great.

Rating: ****

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