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We had the pleasure of interviewing Mansions over the phone!
“I think your life is on this line,” says Mansions vocalist/guitarist Christopher Browder. “Wherever you are, there’s always this split between what you’ve done and what you’re going to do. You start to want to be intentional about your choices and defining who you want to be—not just letting life happen to you.” That intersection is where Mansions’ fourth full-length Big Bad exists. The album captures a specific moment where you’ve become acutely aware of the passage of time, and where there’s just enough in the rearview to truly begin understanding how critical it is to make the most of what’s ahead. The album is an affecting, dreamlike amalgam of in-betweens, what-could-have-beens, and what-ifs—and is the band’s most expansive and confident work to date. And if Big Bad is any indication, Mansions are making their future count.
The Seattle-based band has gone through several incarnations since forming in 2007, most recently settling into the duo of Browder and bassist Robin Dove. Across releases like 2011’s Dig Up The Dead, 2013’s Doom Loop, and 2017’s Deserter, Mansions have built a cult following with their knack for insightful, textured songs that often incorporate subdued electronics as seamlessly as bombastic guitars. While Browder spent much of the past decade fully steeped in the band and the life of a musician, his relationship towards making music has evolved in recent years. But rather than avoid that natural evolution or work to rekindle a past energy, Browder found a new kind of inspiration and freedom while writing what would become Big Bad. “I felt like I wasn’t having a ton of fun with music because it had become a job,” Browder explains. “It’s easy to get in your head and that really took its toll. It took a couple years to get back to enjoying music as a way to express myself again. It feels more like a creative necessity.”
A sense of acceptance and a desire for personal and creative contentment is palpable on Big Bad. Recorded at Browder’s home studio, the album is powered by sprawling synths, hazy guitars, and churning bass, all filtered through cassette decks and worn out reverb tanks. Browder says, “There was no pressure this time, we were making a deliberate effort to not be too self-conscious and I think that definitely opened up some new things.” The 11 songs form a vibrant collage that manages to achieve a balance of crescendoing catharsis and stripped back intimacy. “There’s always this tension between the louder and quieter elements,” Browder says. “A lot of what I find sonically interesting are those more messed up or fuzzy sounds, but sometimes I also try to work against some of those instincts. We wanted to figure out how to do big moments without leaning on loud guitars and drums. But also not make those decisions just to do something different or be someone else. It’s about trying to figure out who you really are and what you really want to be.”
This kind of self-searching is present throughout Big Bad both musically and lyrically: a need to not just act, but to drill down into deeper motivations and potential consequences. Much of the album explores highly specific moments in ways that ask bigger questions about growth and aging, as well as the endless branching paths in life and how we choose which to take. “Your natural instincts aren’t always wrong,” Browder says. “But I think it can be bad if you’re not cognizant of them.” “Do It Again” opens the album with a pulsating synth and subtle manipulations to Browder’s warm voice as he mourns a crumbled relationship and the sadness of losing both the memories of the past and the possibilities of the future. The song fades into “Black and White,” where Dove’s distorted bass cuts through a blend of electronic and organic drums, all underscoring the strain in Browder’s questioning words. Tracks like “Power Lines” and “PPV” demonstrate Mansions’ mastery of dynamics by reaching electrifying peaks without relying on crashing drums; the former, along with “Let’s Explode” and “Leader of The Pack,” find Browder observing himself and the people around him trying to reconcile the unexpected changes of life. “There’s the idea that as you get older, your life can start feeling like it’s more on a track, but there can also be this feeling of wanting to blow everything up to try and recreate some of that younger freedom. When I see that in other people it makes me examine if I have those instincts too.”
But for all of the longing that feels inherent to Mansions’ sound, the assured and uninhibited music found on Big Bad reflects Browder’s comfort in his identity as a songwriter and a person. Album closer “Strugglers” is an apocalyptic love song that finds him staring into a sense of impending doom, and doubling down on his determination to seize the remaining time and to be in command of how to spend it. “The real freedom is when you’re choosing to be who you are,” says Browder. “And not just reacting.”
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