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We all draw inspiration from our contemporaries. It’s impossible not to turn on the radio and hear a band that reminds you of another band. Inspiration turns into creation on most paths, regurgitation on some. The majority of bands we listen to do this, which isn’t a bad thing; it’s almost inescapable when our ears listen to countless sounds a day because it’s getting easier and easier to create and release music. The magic happens when a band takes that inspiration and sifts through it, shoving past the layers of bullshit and distilling the core of what makes it resonate with people, then adding their own imprint. There’s a solid foundation but it’s the small experiments that are built on that foundation that sometimes create something unique and memorable.
Mansell is without a doubt a band born from the radio rock we all have listened to. They share some relatable sounds with Young the Giant and Atlas Genius with some small, small elements reminiscent of the slightly less known but infinitely more engaging and challenging (note: totally my opinion) Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s We’re familiar with the basic construct of a radio rock song: anthemic vocals that have just the right amount of shouting, guitars that battles next to the vocals in the war for future arena gigs. Mansell has elements of this, sure. But they took the good parts. They took the “call to action” lyrics of modern day indie rock and turned them into rather impressive vocal narratives that flow alongside the instrumentation, sometimes stirring the instruments into a frenzy. The final track on their album Mantra, “King Pleasure,” is an excellent example of this, where vocalist Holden Fincher’s strained whisper vocals are responded with by a war of sound. “Ghost” is the first track on the album, not counting the instrumental intro, and is easily the most radio friendly song on the album. That’s because it shows it’s influences most unabashedly. And it totally works. It’s fun and upbeat, but it’s not 100% representative of the rest of the album.
Listening to Mantra is kind of like meeting someone for the first time and realizing you’re crushing on them pretty hard. You initially notice that they are fun and exciting and are rather nice to look at. But the more time you spend with them, the more you begin to unravel their complexities. This is where a relationship can take two paths: 1) you decide this isn’t necessarily the complexity you want and you terminate the possibility of it turning into something bigger 2) you marvel at this complexity and you pine to spend every moment available unearthing it so you can gaze at it and cherish it. Mansell is leading us down that second path with Mantra. Moving past “Ghost,” which is the somewhat surface level attraction, reveals experimentation with the indie rock formula and the formation of a sound that feels like it can belong to Mansell. It’s something special and you can feel it starting to grow as the band winds through their album.
The lyrical content does a wonderful job of shining on it’s own as well, discussing the complexities of relationships and talking earnestly about growing up with love. The track “A Love Immodest” tackles the subject matter of complacency within a relationship. Fincher sings of the all too real moment when you realize you’re so comfortable within a relationship that you’ve given up on imbuing it with the romance it once had. It continues to work but that’s it.
It’s worth noting that this is the band’s first album, which was hard to believe upon first listen. The layering and subtle complexities seem that of a much more senior band. It’s also worth noting that most of the band is also still freshly circling their teens. Which makes the previous comment that much more impactful. The band tracked this album live, for the most part, which layers this lovely grit on top of the normal spit-shine cleanliness you get from most indie-rock albums today. That element helps further create a much more honest and relatable sound. It’s vulnerable.
The only thing bad about Mansell’s debut album Mantra is that it’s too damn short. It’s 8 songs that wrap up before you really want it to. With the exception of that quasi dumb complaint, it’s an album that truly gets better with each listen. There are enough sounds to catch a new arrangement or moment with each listen. The lyrics grow meaning with each spin and the combination of the instrumentation and vocals becomes powerfully connected each time around. Mantra is an album that contains a lot of growth. It’ll be exciting to see these guys continue on their path and continue to challenge the popular musical equations we hear daily.