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If you have been lucky enough to witness the current Queens Of The Stone Age live show, you will doubtless have noticed Michael Shuman. When he’s in full flight, it’s hard to take your eyes off the shaggy haired, muscle bound, force of nature. It is one thing for Shuman to hold his own in the onstage magnetism stakes against master of ceremonies Josh Homme and his hulk of a drummer Joey Castillo. Branching off from the band to compose a record strong enough to withstand the inevitable parallels is an entirely different matter. It is with no small degree of shock then, that I today report the triumph of Mini Mansions’ self-titled debut album.
The inevitable QOTSA comparison is a useful one, if only because it serves to underline how far removed the two projects are from each other. At their best, QOTSA are brute force translated into polka dot riffs and thinly veiled innuendo. Mini Mansions owe a similar debt to psychedelia but have the guile to express themselves through a far more vaudevillian interplay of Addams Family piano, blues-infused six-string and harmonies which echo from across the river Styx.
At its heart, Mini Mansions is a pop album. By that I mean Shuman, alongside Los Angeles compatriots Zach Dawes and Tyler Parkford, trade in big meaty hooks that you can gather a song around and eke into alien territory whilst holding their structure. The likes of ‘Kiddie Hypnogogia’ and ‘Wünderbars’ are far too subversive for the top 40. Nor does the LP unveil its hand in one flashy show of howling perversity. ‘The Room Outside’ demands you lend it your attention again and again until the shrieking solo that heralds its conclusion is bolstered by familiarity with the spine-chilling organ chords of its once innocuous introduction.
If this lends the impression of a complex album Mini Mansions is deceptively so, never sacrificing immediacy for an unnecessary show of technical flair. The unfussy lyrical satire of ‘Crime Of The Season’ proves a necessary counterpoint to the track’s weighty musical tone, “Why ya passing all my test tube dummies? You knock around my guts on the front page funnies.” Likewise, the nine standalone songs which make up the album are supplemented by three ‘vignettes’ which form an admirably succinct trio of brooding segues, ratcheting up the tension rather than dissipating it as so many attempts at its ilk often do.
In essence, Mini Mansions are too good to be dismissed as a side project. The blithe malice of ‘Monk’ is too mesmerising to be dismissed through preconceptions alone. The creaking exuberance of ‘Seven Sons’ too moreish. Just as Shuman himself demands attention within the crowded QOTSA line-up, Mini Mansions should shine in their own right regardless of their imposing origins. All they require are your ears. It would be rude to turn down such a delectable request.