Michael Shuman is best known for his work with Queens of the Stone Age, but his rock résumé had already been developed long before then thanks to his first band, Wires on Fire. Because of this, just a year or two after joining the famed Palm Desert rockers, Shuman decided he wanted a lighter musical outlet. Enter Zach Dawes and Tyler Parkford, the fellow Los Angeles natives who would eventually make up the other two-thirds of Shuman’s new project. The ensuing jams birthed Mini Mansions, an indie pop collective blending an accessible, synth-driven sound with psychedelic undertones. Their sophomore LP is entitled The Great Pretenders, and its release is sandwiched between two separate tour runs.
The Great Pretenders opens with the head-bobbing, foot-tapping “Freakout!” The record’s first track showcases prominent low-end and rich vocal harmonies. “Death is a Girl” keeps the bassline in the forefront, while sprinkling otherworldly effects over the top. The effects are just enough to give the lead single a surreal vibe, as if the listener was on a trip to outer space. “Creeps” is a slowed-down, guitar-searing jam that feels like it could be pop’s relative to the Black Keys. The bass and synth dominate on “Fantasy,” but it’s the sing-along ending that really makes the song spectacular.
The trio enlists the help of Brian Wilson (yes, that Brian Wilson) on “Any Emotions.” The result is a moody song that ends up being as “chill” as it is melancholic, an odd yet fitting combination. The track that ensues takes this idea and magnifies it. Much unlike what its title suggests, “Vertigo” is far from a cover of the popular U2 song. The dark atmospheric elements lay a musical foundation for the tune, but the guest appearance from the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner in verse two is what really takes it to the next level of “eerie.” Needless to say, of all the songs on The Great Pretenders, none of them have more staying power than “Vertigo.”
The pace picks back up again on “Honey, I’m Home,” an interesting song with lots of different effects going on. The most intriguing part of “Honey, I’m Home” is the dissonant ending, which leads straight into “Mirror Mountain,” where the dissonance only continues. You could brand this as “noise pop” if you really wanted to; for me though it just seems like the perfect song to bang your head to for four and a half minutes. As unpleasing as this may sound, the ending of “Mirror Mountain” actually arrives too soon.
The bass and synth combination returns to the forefront in “Heart of Stone,” a slower song that feels like the polar opposite of its predecessor. The spacey elements from earlier in the record also return in the chorus, making for another fantastic slow song. The pop rock is in full swing on “Double Visions,” a brighter tune with a bouncy bassline. The fitting album closer is the relatively subdued “The End, Again,” which ties things up rather nicely.
The sophomore full-length from Mini Mansions is a phenomenal release all the way through. The L.A.-based trio has created a unique sound that melds ‘60s pop rock with hints of ‘70s psychedelica and a modern flair. From the calm to the abrasive and everything in between, The Great Pretenders does not disappoint in the slightest. Not every single track has the same level of listenability, but that’s the only conceivable flaw on the entire album.