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Mansion - Wolfschool

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Artist: Mansion

Album: Wolfschool

Label: Overcoat

Review date: Jun. 11, 2002

The current retread re-trend of NYC garage bands has rocketed past the point of being humorous straight to being discouraging. The past is full of so many great musicians – why do these bands seem determined to replicate unknown Nuggets 60s bands? I’m probably not the first to visit this conclusion, but they all sound like fools gold. It seems like anyone old enough to hear those sounds the first time has no desire to revisit them. Instead, we have twentysomethings who discover the 60s underground and fall in love with themselves. Or maybe it’s just the glossy 8” x 10”s…

At this point, the glut of these bands makes it hard to take any of them seriously. Not that borrowing from the past is a bad thing. In the right context, reminiscing the times when the Top 40 was full of great songs can be a wonderful thing. Like on Mansion’s debut EP Wolfschool, for instance.

This relatively new Chicago quintet channels the spirit of classic David Bowie, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones with an eerie ’round-midnight mystique and without the pseudo-trash flavor of the month. Wolfschool maintains a back-alley elegance throughout, somewhat similar to American Music Club or Patti Smith. There are no violent guitar stabs here, no syncopated staccatos. Mansion goes down easy, effortlessly spinning smooth liminal songs that teeter on the threshold between past relics and future stardom.

Wolfschool aptly opens with Jonathan Klos' vocals and Jacob Smith’s piano. Klos and Smith dominate the EP’s feel and are primarily responsible for its ballroom appeal. Both exude subtle sophistication through classical leanings. Klos shines in the moonlight, singing the moody melody with grace and gentility. The opening track “Common Apple” features Klos sounding Ziggy Stardust, his baritone pleadings exude both melancholy and repressed desperation. Smith, meanwhile, plays the perfect accompanist, amplifying Klos' distinguished air to greater heights with spacious piano riffs. “Common Apple” reeks of classic songwriting and encompasses the ideal alchemy of formula and ingenuity.

“Wolfschool the Moon” again raids the archives, this time Neil Young. Klos lifts and tweaks the vocals to a grainy howl, while Smith twinkles shadows on the electric piano. “You’re just a skull someday babe, you better dance,” Klos slowly croons, epitomizing the EP’s somber, surreal tone.

Wolfschool ends with “Get that Gem,” a Quaalude, Keith Richard waltz that spotlights John Van Herrik on guitar, plucking a banjo back-porch kind of blues. Graeme Gibson holds together the piece on the kit with skilled restraint. Meanwhile, bassist Gabe McDonough adds texture and depth with warm, sustained tones.

Wolfschool's eerie macabre is only one element of what makes this EP so promising. Aside from their obvious technical skills and unique voice, Mansion simply sounds like a band on its way to stardom, or at least success. These songs sweat smoke. Outsider soul unfolds and flies free with every solemn, subdued step. In other words, this gold is for real. With Wolfschool, these Chicago-ites aren’t just making music, they’re making history...or remaking it, at least.

By Otis Hart

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