Isolation has long shaped the Seattle music scene. A feeling of being cut off from the rest of the country in this Northwest nook has driven themes of angst, but it has also been an internally unifying force. Seattle musicians rally around the geographic seclusion. That’s why Mansions feels like such an anomaly, it’s a Seattle band that exists outside the local culture; the isolationist among isolationists. The Louisville transplant (comprised of singer-songwriter Christopher Browder and bassist Robin Dove) has been Seattle-based for a few years, but its local gigs could be counted on two hands. The band didn’t even mark November’s arrival of a new record with an album release show of any type, only playing a show opening for out of town touring pals Kevin Devine and Now, Now at the Vera Project a week before it dropped. But that album, Doom Loop, is quintessential Seattle rock: Loud, fuzzy, angry, and intelligent.
Doom Loop dive bombs into action with “Climbers” massive sounding mix of heavy bass fuzz and overdriven guitar layers. The track firmly establishes the album’s deft use of the time honored soft verse/loud chorus dynamic, where Browder’s withheld emotions explode into sonic fits of angst. The song’s beat down us-against-the-world mentality is fleeting, as the majority of Doom Loop focuses on communication breakdowns and relationships unraveling. Things start to fall apart on “Two Suits” as Browder bemoans that, “You turn off the radio whenever I enter the room,” and draws a line in the sand by declaring the spat he sings of to be “that grudge I’ll never lose.” These feelings expand into a sense of pure mistrust on “La Dentista” (“Could pull out all your teeth and you’d still lie to me”) and grudges built via breakups in “Out for Blood.” As the album progresses, song like “If You’re Leaving” and “Last One In” move on to the feeling of disorientation of trying getting out of a stale environment or risk being the lone soul left behind.
All the while, Browder vocals aptly capture a smothering sense of exasperation. The feeling is reinforced by his backing overdubs which mirror the lyrics with a distant sound, like they’re being screamed through a bullhorn that’s sinking underwater. While infrequent, the moments when Dove provides her background vocals, like on the outro to “Two Suits,” act as a much needed softening contrast to Browder’s constant frustrated tension. The pair’s complimentary relationship extends to Doom Loop’s instrumental realm, as Dove’s deep bass groves provide constant stability behind Browder’s guitar wailings.
Mansions isn’t king of any Seattle scene. Heck, it’s not even really a member of the scene. But the band may have crafted the best album the city has to offer in 2013.