Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Mansions releases b-sides that blow most people's a-sides away

March 8, 2010

I love prolific, emotive songwriters. From Damien Jurado to Sufjan Stevens  to Bright Eyes to the all-time champion of the genre The Mountain Goats, I love the idea of an artist that has so much music coming out that he can’t release it all fast enough. Mansions is my newest prolific songwriter discovery. Best of the Bees has songs on it other bands would kill to have as singles, and it’s a b-sides album. I simply cannot understand how people like this exist, but I will gladly listen to their music.

Christopher Browder, who is Mansions, has released ten songs that paint him as caught somewhere between being Bright Eyes and The Mountain Goats. He captures the all-encompassing songwriting of Bright Eyes (electronic pieces, pop songs, folk songs, song fragments, etc) but does it through the earnest but not maudlin lyrics of the Mountain Goats. There is some adolescent moping throughout the album (“LetsBSdTgthr,” “18th Bday,” “Tangerine”), but there is also an impressive amount of questioning of weighty and substantive issues, like “Never Enuff,” which is a story about someone breaking up with God. Browder isn’t questioning the existence of God, he’s questioning whether or not God is worth it. That’s a pretty advanced step for a pop song.

Also advanced is Browder’s songwriting ability. Browder sets up “All Eyes on You” with a dance-ready synth line and a clicking backbeat that just begs to become a thumping techno song. Instead, he keeps the clicking and the synths going, then adds mellow, atmospheric synths on top of it. It transforms the mood of the song and drives the tune in a whole other direction. It’s a masterful re-direct and a perfect display of his unique songwriting vision.

Other songs are more straightforward, like the plodding guitar and piano of “Unwell” or the lo-fi guitar sound of “I Swear” and “LtsBSdTghthr.” These display Browder’s prowess in a totally different way. On “LtsBSdTgthr” and “I Swear,” Browder creates memorable, distinct songs out of the most basic of elements. He’s not just a composer; he’s a genuine songwriter. And in this day and age, pure songwriters are becoming less lauded and (thus) less heard from.

Every song on this album is worth writing a hundred or more words about; some songs merit even more than that, as I’d want to set aside a hundred plus for the lyrics and a hundred plus for the music. I’ll spare you the words, but take that statement in good faith. This album is amazing, and it’s a friggin’ B-sides album. If Browder writes with this sort of clarity, quality and intensity on his regular albums, I may have found a new prolific artist to keep up with. And that’s not a statement to be made lightly, because liking a prolific songwriter is an expensive venture (I had to cut Damien Jurado when I discovered the Mountain Goats, etc.). Get this album. It’s available as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp, and that’s just silly for the amount of quality you’re getting in these tunes.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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