Mini Mansions | The Great Pretenders | Rating: 9/11 |
Honestly, the jury has never really been out regarding whether they were a full-fledged musical offering as opposed to a Queens of the Stone Age side project of QOTSA bassist Michael Shuman: Mini Mansions have never been pretenders. Contradicting this sophomore record’s title is as cheeky a thing as anything else you’ll find on this frontal lobe-driven concoction of space-aged, psychedelic pop from Shuman and his partners in dreamery, Zach Dawes and Tyler Parkford.
As a member of QOTSA, one might have expected the inevitable rub off of desert dust to leach into Mini Mansions, but au contraire, and all is the better because of it. Their 2010 self-titled debut sported whimsy and abstract emotions as its backbone but The Great Pretenders mines for deeper, richer and – ultimately – darker thematic territory while retaining pop music’s ultimate goodness value. The songs stick because they’re damned good, flush with a confident flair for keeping retro company (that Beatles-esque air still lingers) without wallowing. Parkford and Shuman alternate on lead vocal duties song for song as well as gelling in pitch solid harmonies while balancing the musically eclectic with the mellow. From the onset of the 60s downward funk and stomp of “Freakout!,” Mini Mansions start showing the whip smart and spirited nature of their music as sort of a collision of Animal Collective and Devo, while avant-garde yet familiar “Death Is A Girl” does its new wave dance of abandon. Lyrically, we’re contending with the relationship rollercoaster of life: ecstasy, love, despair, regret and yet the trio manages to elevate these hum drum machinations and paint kaleidoscopic pictures of sound and emotion that you’ll have the strangest urge to dance to. But don’t feel too bad about having a good time at their expense: I’m sure that they welcome it.
Yes, there are those two less than shabby cameos nestled within back to back. Alex Turner’s deliverance of a helping of his Sheffield cool in “Vertigo” is so seamless and sublime that it re-imagines The Rat Pack with him as its sole member. And even if you didn’t know that Brian Wilson assisted on “Any Emotions” you would still dig its fluid groove and uncomfortable honesty just the same. The truth is you’d be hard pressed to find actual flaws with this record: it gets electronically fuzzed out and distorted on “Fantasy”, it get’s trippy with spastic bursts on “Mirror Mountain” (which hearing live only enhances the eargasm) and glacially doom cool in “The End, Again.” It’s the ever present shifting in the moments, tempos, and temperatures that warrant returning to this album in pieces of songs and the record, as a whole.
In the right hands, when pop goes a little sideways, the results can be wickedly wonderful. Dawes, Parkford and Schuman skew the framework with otherworldly and playful keys, guitars and atypical percussion to where it may not be ordinarily accessible, but who the fuck cares? At this point and for future reference, where artful imagination is concerned, see Mini Mansions for further. Because with unusually clear creative vision, The Great Pretenders puts Mini Mansions on the map as unusually great music makers.