Mini Mansions at Tin Can Alehouse, 11/29/10
In rock & roll, the use of harmony has become a dying art. From the genre's formative years onward, harmonies were a crucial part of its aesthetic, yet somewhere along the line, bands just stopped putting forth the effort. Today, harmonizing has become the infrequent exception rather than the rule. But whenever bands do make the effort -- and have the chops to pull it off -- it can be a powerful weapon that adds leagues of depth to their sound. And that's what made Mini Mansions' show at the Tin Can such a treat.
The L.A. trio opened with the creeping fake-out of "Vignette #1" -- off its recent self-titled debut -- before launching into the swinging, keyboard-heavy "Crime of the Season." As they would throughout the set, guitarist/drummer Michael Shuman and keyboardist Tyler Parkford traded lead vocal duties before joining in extended, intertwined harmonies that would have made Lennon and McCartney jealous.
Despite the vocal resemblance to the Beatles, the overall mood was much darker than anything that band ever conjured. "The Room Outside" was a pitch-black affair made all the darker by Shuman's torrential drums and Packford's chewed-up keys. Next, the psych-pop "Monk" showcased the band's cascading melodies and Zach Dawes' bubbling bass lines before dissolving into a fever dream outro filled with visceral screams and helium-huffing falsettos. Later -- in perhaps the evening's oddest moment -- Mini Mansions performed a dirge-like cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" (MP3) with all the funereal solemnity of a demonic incantation.
Any of the band's songs would have been at home in a horror film, but there was always an unwavering pop sensibility at the heart of all the darkness. Shuman and Packford's intricate harmonies sounded like at least four people singing, and their gorgeous melodies illuminated even the blackest songs. Mini Mansions may derive their strength from the tug-of-war between darkness and the light, but they resolve that tension with the choral beauty of their harmonies. And to think -- a lesser band might never have made the effort.