Perfect LP: Mansions

The folks at Modern Vinyl asked me to write about Mansions some more, so I did. A few thousand words spewed out over the course of 7 hours and 10 loads of laundry.

Perfect LP is a feature in which the Modern Vinyl writers take on the tall task of summarizing an artist or band’s career in an LP sized selection of tracks. Bypassing what was the single, what was the “hit” and what fans call for throughout shows, it’s time to decide what makes up the Perfect LP.

The Rules

The selections will total no more than 50 minutes.
The selections are arranged in logical fashion, as in how you’d like to hear them in a real tracklisting.

The Subject

The brooding emotional faucet that is Christopher Browder (aka Mansions).

The Tracks

Note: For posterity's sake, I'm listing the playlist out in text here as well.

  1. Tangerine
  2. Never Enuff
  3. Letsbsdtgthr
  4. Unwell
  5. Talk Talk Talk
  6. Insulated
  7. Close That Door
  8. Yer Voice
  9. Two Suits
  10. The Economist
  11. Last One In
  12. 100 Degrees
  13. Call Me When It's Over

The Explanation

Crafting an ideal tracklist encompassing Mansions’ career is like writing a eulogy for a loved one. Few write so candidly as Christopher Browder, which makes choosing highlights from his musical journal enormously complex and exceptionally personal. While each track chosen here is certainly a personal favorite of mine, none are more important to the scattered emotional narrative than this perfect LP’s omissions. My connection to Mansions is a long and intimate one. I’ve found both solace and companionship in these songs. They’ve carried me through difficult times and inspired me in better ones. Like a Eulogy, my track order is informed by life’s linear progression. My perfect LP spans almost 10 years, highlighting influential tracks in my life in the order they were written.

The Selections

Tangerine (from Mansions – EP, 2008)

A story starts at the beginning. The closest we can get to that on streaming services these days is with Mansions’ 2008 self-titled EP. It’s track 3 on that record that most completely sums up the complex web of subject matter in the years to come. “Tangerine” recognizes the fear, loneliness, and self-worth in youth today. Openness and acceptance has certainly come a long way in 8 years, but the way people grow into their own during those pivotal high school years remains. When Browder croons, “everyone is scared of showing people who they are,” his finest quality shines. His forthcoming style allows the listener to relate, while his obscure and scattered cadence lends itself to personal interpretation.

Never Enuff (from Best of the Bees, 2008-ish)

A common thread in Mansion’s music is the heartfelt difficulty of relationships. Jealousy, contempt, manipulation… it’s all present in Browder’s songwriting from the start. Best of the Bees was released to highlight the best of the numerous EPs Mansions released in 2008. “Never Enuff” scored highly in my book, not only for sparking my imagination for interpretation, but for what came from that. The first verse is ambiguous, but it wasn’t hard to pull a story about a strained bond between a religious father-figure and daughter who has begun making choices on her own. It’s a coming of age story without the heroism of popular media. The girl in this narrative is breaking hearts while following hers. It’s good to reflect on just how easily we can affect the lives of others simply by living out our own.

Ltsbsdtgthr (from Best of the Bees, 2008-ish)

Depression is no joke. I went through some rough patches in my latter years of high school and through college. It was that time I found Mansions and began retreating online. While some in my life felt I was abandoning the world and the many problems I felt it was laying on me, I was finding support through the friends I had made on the Internet. Through music and through writing about music, I’ve met individuals that not only understood what I was feeling in those dark periods — they had gone through it too. This song is about that for me. Plus it has harmonica.

Unwell (from Best of the Bees, 2008-ish)

It’s an uncommon circumstance for me to relate to both sides of a song. More specifically, to find a piece of myself in the perspective of the writer and in the perspective of the subject. In the case of “Unwell,” the writer is pissy over the fact their so-called friend isn’t there for them — albeit in a pretty superficial way. The subject, an unnamed recluse or someone simply trying to avoid the writer, is staying in or staying away. There’s more ambiguity here as to whether or not the perspective changes between verses or not, but that doesn’t really matter. My face has been etched on both sides of the coin — heads reclusive loner, tails abandoned friend. Friendships come and go. The incipience of friendships found and friendships lost can be frivolous or material. Either way, they are transitory.

Talk Talk Talk (from New Best Friends, 2009)

Being a quality friend isn’t easy. I think that’s why so many friendships fail. Some of the greatest friendships I ever had came crashing down over selfishness and unreciprocated understanding.

“You sat down on the couch and said, ‘What’s going on, how have you been?’ But you weren’t really listening.
I could tell by how you act like my lips never move, nod, then make it about you.”

Listening is the most important thing you can do for a friend. I’m not perfect. As many of my loved ones can attest, I certainly interject when I shouldn’t. I like to think I’m aware of that though and apologize when necessary. Some of my best friends throughout the years don’t think that way. I’ve befriended a lot of egos in two decades. While it’s sad to think back on friendship that ended this way, it’s experiences like these that inform our futures. Mansions records are chock-full of these.

Insulated (from New Best Friends, 2009)

The fear of losing someone becomes compounded with complexity when that someone is a major source of frustration in your life. It’s a balance between love and pain, one that plays out candidly in this New Best Friends track.

“I’ve never felt so insulated. Nothing can make it past my skin…Always afraid I’ll get that phone call.
Telling me that you aren’t here. Telling me that you gave up.”

Those that make you feel the most loved can also make you feel like the worst of yourself. Love is nuts.

Yer Voice (from Dig Up The Dead, 2011)
It was Dig Up The Dead that drew me into Mansions during my senior year of high school. Gallons of angst, indecision, and misplacement poured out of me into a swirling mixture with the tones and sentiments of that record. Never had I identified so heavy with a written work. Insomnia, purpose, relationships…These things fed into my psyche and daily life. I made sense of it all through key tracks like “Yer Voice”

“And the one thing that I need is the dreams back in my sleep where they belong.
I’m where they belong, you’ll see. This means everything to me.”

Close That Door (from Dig Up The Dead, 2011)
In time, I began to move on from the things bringing me down. What was important to me either lost its weight or found peace in the way things played out.

“I burned up your letters. My memory suits me better. Changed my name. I made my move.
I’m not the one who laid beside you. Forget before, and close that door.”

As I grew, so did Browder. As I wrote in my review of Doom Loop for Under The Gun, “Doom Loop isn’t what Dig Up The Dead is to me. It’s something completely different. It’s new conflicts, new fears. It’s every bit as impressive and thought-provoking as its predecessor.” I find that “Close That Door” makes for an excellent transition into a new period of both my life and his.

Two Suits (from Doom Loop, 2013)

“You never call or write like that’s some big surprise. How do you sleep at night?”

Grudges are a nasty, unpleasant, tiring emotion. As much as we’d like to move on completely, residual feelings remain. That’s okay though. As long as we don’t act on feelings of ill will, the path to improvement is a lot more free and clear.

The Economist (from Doom Loop, 2013)

In my 20th year of life, I met my girlfriend. In my 22nd year, we moved in together and got salaried jobs. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that our live aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty great.

“The faucets leak, the floorboards squeak. I’ve found my place to live.”

For me, working my day job isn’t the most fulfilling thing. I far and away prefer the creative endeavors I busy myself with at home.

“I just wanna be good at something I like, something I might wake up for.”

My girlfriend has been the most supportive person in my life for two years this month. This song had a different meaning to me three years ago, but that changed. That happens a lot with Mansions songs. The candidness makes the music personal. The ambiguity makes it timeless.

Last One In (from Doom Loop, 2013)

I’m still living in the same area I grew up in. I’m 30 miles from where I was born and just 10 from where I went to school. That has its drawbacks and its benefits. Being so near to my family and friends is a blessing, but that comfort is constantly at war with my desire for more than what northeastern Ohio can offer me. Browder seems to relate.

“I had it oh so easy, a charming life, but I don’t live here anymore and I don’t really care the way I thought I cared before.”

I’m happy here, but the feeling isn’t the same because I’m not the same.

100 Degrees (from Doom Loop, 2013)

If motivation and place is the theme for the latest of Mansions’ work, I think “100 Degrees” exists as the thesis. At a certain point, if someone wants to make a real change in their life, recognizing complacency and making resolute efforts is imperative. This song might be more about being held back, but I take more from it than that.

“I know some days shit gets so heavy, but I won’t sing that song no more. Yeah, it’s okay.”

Call Me When It’s Over (from Dig Up The Dead, 2011)

Of all Mansions’ emo ballads and earnest anthems, this is my favorite. This is the song that year-after-year I have found some new meaning in — some change in perspective. There is no other way to end the perfect Mansions LP than with this, the most openly honest and heartbreakingly sad song I’ve ever heard.

“Call me when it’s over, when it’s time to fade away, cause I got bruises I won’t let you see.
We were never friends and, man, I swear that that’s okay. I always knew the truth, but tried so hard not to believe.”

See what I mean? Then there’s this one — the existential line that’s rung in my ears for 5 years now.

“Well God is dead and there are no reasons I should sing, but I still do it anyway. Yeah, I am singing all the same.”

I’m not a sad, lonely, or depressed person. Not anymore. I do get down and question my place in the cosmos on occasion, but I’m pretty happy with the way things are right now. Mansions has a big role in that. I’ve grown up with these records. Not in the way that you grow up with The Eagles because your mom is really into “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” More like a growing into yourself sort of way. This collection of songs has foretold, mirrored, and reminded me of my life time and time again. This is my perfect LP.