If pure sound had the capability to project images on a blank wall, Mini Mansions would be worthy projectionists. On a break from Queens of the Stone Age, Michael Shuman melded heads and locked arms with longtime friends Tyler Parkford and Zach Dawes in a dusty room in the San Fernando Valley. Here, they began a collaborative séance out of which birthed Mini Mansions in January of 2009. Though their triangle is usually confined to piano, bass, and a cocktail drum kit, the LA-based trio generates a Technicolor spectrum of sound drawn from the baroque, gothic, psychedelic, and cinematic realms. Their debut self-titled release curtseys to the past, bows to the present, and foreshadows a progressively more abstract future.
Three vignettes are the structural frameworks upon which Mini Mansions builds, burgeoning into a wildly colorful, narrative fresco when listened to in sequence, straight through. Although Mini Mansions’ intention was not to position the record as a concept album, Dawes believes there are a lot of different spaces they like to explore. “For us, it's basically about letting the songs take you and seeing where you can go with them.”
Such narratives take shape under the surface like a Magic-Eye stereogram, surreal and sophisticated; the effect is something akin to a bizarre family slideshow seen in one’s peripheral. “At the end of the day, there’s something very visual about what we do,” Parkford expresses. “It has the effect that you’re watching an invisible movie or frantically changing the channels on a defective television set, not just listening to a record.” Yet, the underlying element of intimacy of Mini Mansions is never lost. Shuman elucidates, “There are a lot of thematic elements from film and television that come into play on the record, especially during the instrumental passages. I guess we try to mimic what is seen rather than what is heard,” Parkford adds.
The first single from the record, “Monk”, is a potent dose of dance-psych. The track is a heavy precursor to the album’s orchestral aspects, comprised of thick organ cannons, fuzzy bass hooks, and ghostly Shangri La beats. Parkford’s soft hymns and Shuman’s sharp melodic carvings hazily weave amongst each other in true chamber-pop fashion, giving the voice of “Monk” a beautiful split personality. “Monk” quickly becomes a melancholy dance party in slow motion.
After a self-released EP and touring with the likes of Autolux, Warpaint, Dead Weather, BRMC, Minus the Bear, and Them Crooked Vultures, Mini Mansions recorded their debut record at Josh Homme’s own Pink Duck Studios, not far from the old dusty room that initiated their rituals. Homme mixed some of the record’s most pivotal tracks including “Crime of the Season”, the dream-pop slow-jam “Wunderbars,” and the album version of “Monk.” Homme describes the band’s kaleidoscopic sound as “genuinely psychedelic with huge hooks... After listening to Mini Mansions just once, you won’t be able to get it out of your head.'"
The ingenuity of the Mini Mansions sound is not a teaser-trailer or a sizzle reel, but the grainy film, vintage color, and flickering light make for a wholly original experience.