Review : Mansions - Dig Up the Dead
PopmattersIn the curious world the digital technology of today has fostered (or perhaps more accurately, fomented), the contemporary solo artist has been afforded the deliciously alchemic ability to thrive in a vacuum. It is a dangerous power to wield. Absolute power is purported to corrupt absolutely, and recklessly creating a singular world where the opinions of others matter little can produce horrific results. A few taps into your favorite search engine will yield ample evidence of ear-violating corroboration of that fact, but those that are able to rise through the murk and take advantage of the platform can do big things outside out the aegis of the dying hulk of today’s music industry.
Christopher Browder definitely has made the best of those possibilities. Performing under the nom du project Mansions, the Louisville, Kentucky, native Browder has released a raft of material over the last five years. Initially gaining notice via the Interweb and self-released tour CDs, he eventually released his debut, New Best Friends, through Doghouse Records in 2009. New Best Friends garnered Browder a host of said same, setting the web aflame and garnering Mansions a bumper crop of blog love and mainstream press. A spate of remixes and EPs followed in its wake, as did last year’s well-received b-sides comp Best of the Bees, fueling anticipation for a follow-up.
Well, the wait is over. Full-length number two from Mansions is called Dig Up the Dead, and from the opening title track, it is obvious that stately Browder Manor is haunted by the ghosts of its owner’s past relationships. The figurative exhumation has spawned a musical Pandora’s box of regret and self-flagellation. Bon mots like “I have never been free but I have always been cheap” underscore the melancholia with a filigree of humor, but Dig Up the Dead is rife with images of yelling, leaving, and starting again. The ambient washes of electric angst that open the record set an angst-ridden tone with an acoustic bed before “Blackest Sky” ups the rock factor with big rock guitars and a raging coda. “Not My Blood” piggybacks off the track previous, churning up a big Billy Corgan meets the first Sunny Day Real Estate record guitar hook. They are the only two tracks on the record to feature outside bass and drums and, as such, rock the hardest and most convincingly....full text
AbsolutepunkYa know, Christopher Browder isn't so different from you and me. Based on his previous work, I'd bet that we've felt the same as him at point or another in our lives, whether it be the same fears, thoughts, or aspirations. We're all heavily flawed, and Browder isn't afraid to share that. And that's what makes Mansions' second full length album, Dig Up The Dead, so instantly relatable. Throughout the ten tracks, Browder spins together intricate tales of loneliness, heartbreak, and doubt backed by layers of fuzzy, distorted guitars.
Contrary to the somber themes, Dig Up The Dead is a raucous and nostalgic rock and roll album, harkening back to that '90s emo/alternative sound. The title track opens the album in exactly that manner, as the track slowly builds up into something more aggressive, with the strongest instrument being Browder's vocals. He doesn't enter the upper register often, but when he does (like on the dizzying “Wormhole”), he delivers excellent results. His vocals also offer a youthful frailty that will resonate with listeners, especially on stirring closing track, “Yer Voice.”
Browder also shows that he is more than just a songwriter, but also an excellent guitar player, with “Blackest Sky” and “Not My Blood” serving as auditory proof. The lo-fi grunge of “Call Me When It's Over” is striking, while the piercing “City Don't Care” features the album's catchiest chorus. While these are great examples of Browder turning up his amp, it's the emotionally stripped-down tracks that hit the hardest and unveil a layer of depth unheard in previous efforts. The brooding yet cathartic “Close That Door” is a fuzzed-out jam focused on a love turned sour, while the haunting “Seven Years” is the pinnacle of the album. Browder has never been more vulnerable, as he faintly states, “If I don’t believe in the afterlife does that mean I can’t go? Will it be me and me and me alone?” It's a slab of raw emotion rarely heard in this scene, and Browder executes it to perfection.
With “Dig Up The Dead,” we get an album that is beautifully desolate. Browder isn't as angry as he was on 2009's New Best Friends, but he isn't any happier here. Still, despite all the depressing topics present on the album, Browder still sprinkles in a little positivity on the acoustic number, “Yer Voice” (“The one thing that you need is the dreams back in your sleep where they belong. I’m where I belong. You’ll see this means everything to me.”). Overall, “Dig Up The Dead” is a refreshingly bold album in a scene that's grown stagnant. Mansions has an engaging energy that few acts possess, as Christopher Browder has emerged as one of the premier songwriters within the genre, along the likes of Jesse Lacey, Kevin Devine, and Matt Pryor. “Dig Up The Dead” has an unshakable aura that will carve out a place on your 'Best Of' list....full text
IndierockreviewsIn the film High Fidelity, John Cusack plays a heartbroken record store owner who obsesses over two things: his failed relationships and music. During one of many monologues, Cusack’s character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” In the case of Mansions, it’s also difficult to tell which came first – the music or the misery.
Dig Up the Dead is the second full-length album from Louisville, Kentucky native Christopher Browder, the man behind the Mansions moniker. With the occasional help of friends, Browder spent over half a year in different southeastern homes crafting the record’s ten songs of post-break up bedroom rock.
Drug use, sleepless nights, and questions of faith appear and reappear in Browder’s nostalgic narrative. “I must admit I’m a little bit lost in space,” he sings on “City Don’t Care.” This sentiment pretty much sums up the vibe on Dead. Browder’s cracked vocals often distort to match the fuzzy guitars and blaring feedback that fight to engulf his underlying acoustic guitar. The recordings aren’t without imperfections, but this only adds to their intimacy and character.
Although Dead is sonically darker than his debut, Browder makes sure not to stray far from his past formula. This leads to somewhat predictable results, but it’s what defines the sound of Mansions. And for the most part, it works. What Dead is lacking most is a hit. It’s clear that Browder is striving for undeniably catchy choruses, but none of the songs fully reach that goal. “Not My Blood” and “Close the Door” come close, standing out as highlight tracks in an overall enjoyable set....full text
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