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The Mantles, ‘Long Enough to Leave’ – Album Review

The reputation of San Francisco’s garage scene has spread faster than the music, and as Ty Segall has gained popularity, his acceptance has partially stemmed from listeners finally being able to put a face and a name to the movement. The Mantles have been in the middle of this new garage movement, but because they remained dormant while Segall and fellow travelers the Fresh & Onlys, Mikal Cronin and Thee Oh Sees released breakout albums, ‘Long Enough to Leave’ seems like a late arrival to the party — one where everyone’s drunk, and no one will remember you brought the spinach dip.

‘Long Enough to Leave’ harks back to a frisbee-in-Dolores Park past. Psych-based and breezy, it’s free of the aggression and snottiness that often seep into the garage scene. The band sounds more like a West Coast version of Real Estate than they do some of their contemporary neighbors. Most interesting are the song structures and progressions, which are rooted less in ’60s classic rock formulas than they are progressive. The title track, with its opening guitar lead, plays more like a folky cover of a punk song or something from the Paisley Underground than a psych freakout or a traditional folk song. The joy of listening to the Mantles is appreciating the synthesis, the lack of shame in admitting that in 2013, you’ve listened to so many different traditions of music that it can’t be surprising when it comes back chewed-up and shapeless.

‘Brown Balloon’ is reminiscent of both the Stone Roses and R.E.M., and yet it maintains its SF garage identity. Where the album fails to captivate is in how relaxed and informal it all feels. While the songwriting is surprisingly more substantial that it first appears, the production and rough-around-the-edges playing, and even the vocal delivery and harmony, all point to a band that doesn’t take things too seriously. And, when an album doesn’t seem urgent, it is hard to appreciate it past a certain point. As strong as the songs can be, if the band doesn’t believe in them, the listening experience falls short of rewarding.

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