Mini Mansions and Mute Swan; Club Congress, Monday, Sept. 8

Being that history is both cyclical and repetitive, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Yes, I'm talking about how in the '60s, garage rock begat psychedelia which in turn begat progressive- or art-rock.

Progressive rock, exemplified by superstar 1970s bands like Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Pink Floyd—and who could forget Gentle Giant?—took the adventurous leanings of their predecessors mind expansion and funneled it into a bid for high society's definition of high art by self-consciously adopting trappings of classical music's virtuosity, alongside the Romantic and Renaissance literature of Williams Blake and Shakespeare, respectively, among others. The problem was that this marriage to the primal body music of rock 'n' roll was mostly incompatible, and did neither form any favors.

Tucson's Mute Swan avoids this unfortunate fate by adhering blindly to neither hard rockin' or hard studying, rather taking a hypnotic and neutral path where the rock 'n' roll is sanded down to sensual ambience, and odd-time rhythms unfold organically instead of becoming a frightful drum solo. As the band's sighing guitar textures take on a sensation of pleasant queasiness—not unlike an elevator moving up and down at a pace approaching, but never quite reaching, vertigo—Mute Swan's lasting impression is that of floating away, rudderless and willing.

Los Angeles' Mini Mansions have "side project" written all over them (drummer/vocalist Michael Shuman plays bass for Queens of the Stone Age): A dress code that begins and ends with swanky suits straight out of the best-forgotten '90s movie "Swingers"; a gimmicky instrumental format of an unorthodox stripped down drum kit, a synthesizer programmed to sound like a bass and a bass guitar treated to sound like a guitar; and an electro-cocktail music sound that features a cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass." Most of all is the lack of a visually charismatic leader like Josh Homme, for example.

But when Mini Mansions gelled and the material possessed a coherency and vision that negated its suspicious moonlighting origins, the trio's intricate harmonies and wall of electronic distortion was quite affecting, rather than affected. Shuman's drumming was dextrous and inventive, and his duets with vocalist and keyboardist Zach Dawes resulted in some fantastic, if lightweight, psych-pop gems. While Mini Mansions probably won't be upgrading to the larger ones reserved for those on Queens of the Stone Age's payroll, they are yet another example of how very deserving music often gets lost in the shuffle for no good reason.

More by Joshua Levine


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