13 Jun 2015

Mini Mansions / The Great Pretenders (album review)

If you've not seen our twitter in the past few days you'll have missed the news that we're now featuring lots of new writers, namely bored, teenage writers, with nothing better to do all summer. One of these is Imogen Carter de Jong, who's 16, and from Bury St Edmunds. This is her first post, and it's an album we missed when it came out - the debut album by LA's Mini Mansions.

Upon hearing the melancholic opening to Mini Mansions' 'Vertigo', Queens of the Stone Age is not immediately an influence that would spring to mind. Yet the LA trio are comprised of just that. Michael Shuman, former bassist of the infamous heavy rockers that are Queens of the Stone Age, founded Mini Mansions way back in 2009. Following a 60s-­esque debut album, Mini Mansions are back with a new album The Great Pretenders and this time they are darker­ mixing their signature spiralling synths and glamorous guitar solos, with downright deep and thudding basslines that are infectiously catchy. 

I first stumbled across Mini Mansions after NME shared the link for the accompanying video to Vertigo. The alluring headline 'Alex Turner cameo' inevitably meant that two hours later I had watched the video an unhealthy amount of times and could now mouth along to Turner's crooning vocals, gazing in awe at his effortlessy slick hair that was more bryllcreem than anything else. The single itself is an alt-­pop masterpiece and it meant that I was hooked on the band on the whole. The ghostly piano is an ever present backing track to frontman Tyler Parkford's soft opening verse, and then there's Turner, bursting in in a frenzy of deep, sultry vocals telling us about a girl who's “Miss been there did that”. The whole song has a haunting theme, as if an accompaniment to a very retro horror film, continued in the video in which shots of the band donning sharp suits are shown amidst groups of topless woman appearing to be stalked by anonymous masked characters.

The album opener Freakout! is a dizzying psychedelic number dripping with synth and a pumping bassline, topped off with an intense voice that could only belong to Shuman. “You can't see my crying,” he tails off melodiously. For me, the album never fails to impress, apart from a few samey heavier numbers (definite Queens of the Stone Age reminiscent Mirror Mountain and Honey, I'm Home), the album goes from strength to strength. Slower, softer, emotionally tinged additions like Heart of Stone are the perfect accompaniment to the spinning, chaotic get­up­and­dance­like­its­1985 that Death is a Girl boasts.

Sure, on paper, the album, along with its big name cameos, looks impossibly impressive. Brian Wilson provides guest vocals on Any Emotion which, despite Wilson's legendary reputation, bored me more than anything. Yet, assuming the cameos weren't there, the album still delivers. The uniqueness of Parkford and Shuman's voices together combined with the new wave inspired synth found on nearly every track allows it slot perfectly into that odd 'alt-­pop' genre whilst still pushing boundaries and allowing Mini Mansions to uphold a legacy all of their own.