Title: Big Bad
Label: Bad Timing Records
Words: Phoebe Messenger
Since the formation of Mansions in 2007, the band built up a loyal following over the past decade through their ability to create textured, alt-rock songs. They’ve seen several lineup alterations, most recently settling as a duo composed of members Christopher Browder on guitar/vocals and bassist Robin Dove. For Browder, the pressures of music had taken their toll and it felt more like a job, but a break has allowed it to feel more like a “creative necessity” for him. Seven years have passed since their last studio album, and three since their 2017 EP Deserter which saw them explore more synth-driven roots. Big Bad is their highly anticipated, long-awaited fourth full-length album and it showcases the band’s reserved but definitive natural evolution.
Despite the softly sung words, the band have never sounded so certain
The record starts modestly with the minimalistic ‘Do It Again’, intriguing with its dark synthy undertones and subtle warm vocal effects, its lyrical themes of mourning a broken relationship immediately sparking curiosity as to where the album could go next. Lead single ‘Black And White’ is next up, blending Dove’s prominent bass lines with loud, fuzzed out guitars and a mixture of electronic and organic drum beats. Gentle strums introduce us to ‘Power Lines’ with Browder’s vocals evoking a sense of warmth and honesty.
Themes such as aging, morality, what-ifs and what-could-have-beens are dotted throughout Big Bad, and its 11 tracks strike an intricate balance between the catharsis and intimacy of life both in its instrumentals and poetic style of lyrics. Deeper into the record, the melancholy, shimmering guitars of ‘Laser Beams’ and ‘Get Loose’ dazzle with the evidently personal lyrics such as “my gray hairs on a silver screen, I’m wearing out”. Despite the softly sung words, the band have never sounded so certain.
Recorded at Browder’s home studio, the soundscapes of Big Bad are truly mesmerising and demonstrate Mansions’ ability to seamlessly incorporate hazy guitars and lulling synths, which were filtered through cassette decks and old reverb tanks which gives the album even more of a personal touch.‘PPV’ is a standout, journeying through a long, winding road of dark synth sounds and fuzzed out lyrics before coming to a symbolically open-ended finish with the vocals getting quieter, but never quite being overridden by the ethereal distortion which fades the track out.
It is a perfect demonstration of a record that documents the growth and maturity of a band over time and is a true and humbling example of an artist finding themselves
Penultimate track ‘To Be Free’ simultaneously lulls the listener with its dreamlike ripples but also grabs attention with its pensive lyrics. The gentle, electronic beats of “Strugglers” bring Big Bad to a fitting close, with Browder exploring the themes of impending doom but at the same time wanting to grasp control of the time remaining in life, singing “we’re losing time, don’t have to tell me twice”.
Big Bad is a truly intimate record which evokes the sense of winding down and finding where you want to be, reflecting the comfort Browder has found in his identity as a songwriter since the inception of Mansions. Big Bad will simultaneously be relished by their dedicated following while attracting a whole new crowd. It is a perfect demonstration of a record that documents the growth and maturity of a band over time and is a true and humbling example of an artist finding themselves.
Big Bad is out now via Bad Timing Records