Album Review: Mini Mansions, ‘The Great Pretenders’
If you were to imagine the sound of an album that features guest appearances by Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner and legendary Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson, chances are you wouldn't come close to The Great Pretenders, the new sophomore album by Mini Mansions -- and also, notably, the first offering from producer T Bone Burnett's Electromagnetic Recordings imprint. Burnett is best known for his work in the roots-Americana vein with artists such as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Joe Henry, Gillian Welch, Elvis Costello, et al. But if it seems puzzling that he would work with a band started by Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman, Shuman has more up his sleeve than he shows in his day gig. For starters, he plays drums, guitar, sings and writes in Mini Mansions. He also leaves QOTSA's pile-driving riffs at the door in favor of a more exotic sound.
It's also important to remember that Burnett has more of a knack for cutting-edge rock than his body of work might initially suggest. As a case in point: In 2004, he produced (and released) Future Perfect, the debut by L.A. experimental space rock trio Autolux (which includes Greg Edwards of Failure).
One of the most rewarding qualities about The Great Pretenders is that, while it confounds any expectations you might have based on the names of its participants, it also makes for a rather smooth, complete listen. Mini Mansions specialize in a delicate, highly decorated brand of psychedelia. Shuman, bassist/drummer Zach Dawes and keyboardist/singer Tyler Parkford also lace their songs with breathtaking sections where the band feels like it's soaring into the clouds of verse-chorus heaven.
Under Burnett's guidance, Mini Mansions carve out a decidedly modern path -- neo-psychedelia, if you will -- and in the process bring a wealth of fresh possibilities to a genre known for its slavish allegiance to the past. The Great Pretenders, filled as it is with curveball treasures, proves that sometimes it's the most unlikeliest of artists who come bearing the gift of pop bliss.