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The Boas - Mansion

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Artist: The Boas

Album: Mansion

Label: Overcoat

Review date: Jan. 23, 2003

Get This Gem

The Boas have possibly become one of the most hated (and loved) bands in Chicago. Why the hatred? The sole reason for the tension, it seems, is their out-of-nowhere creation and instantaneous success. There seems to be a combination of hipster-backlash against "the scene" (of which the band is clearly a part), and a dislike of the fact that all the members of the group have a tendency to sport the most heinous of fashion statements. Fortunately for the Boas (and for music fans in general), indie backlash and fashion have little to do with the actual music, and this music deserves attention.

The album, now called Mansion (the band’s original name), was originally supposed to be called Ain't Nothing Special No More, and that makes sense. This album is about change, loss, and acceptance, and by the time you reach a cut like “Get That Gem,” with its rambling drums, ferocious slide guitar, and lumbering piano, the abandoned title becomes clear. You can hear it in the painful, off-kilter vocals of songwriter John Klos, and the blissfully unsteady guitar work of John Von Herrick. It could almost work as a concept album. The opening cut “Celebration” captures the relief that comes with the breakup, but by the time you reach “Get That Gem,” the sobriety of the situation is too much to bear.

To the satisfaction of the haters, there are certainly shades of the "Chicago Sound" contained within. After all, the album was recorded at Soma and Clava (Chicago’s studio institutions), and John Herndon appears a few times. But the Boas’ sound is one of the more distanced to come out of Chicago in some time. While elements of Califone and Joan of Arc can be found, the group takes those influences and mixes them amidst classic rock insignias and white-boy soul. The instrumentation (Guitar x 2, bass, keys, drums, vox) is reminiscent of Califone, and the group’s songwriting methods operate similarly to Joan of Arc – deconstructing song fragments and assembling them to create a distinct and often incoherent album.

Sparsely recorded as it is, Mansion’s complex web of emotion is woven too tightly to be picked apart by mix-tape maestros. It is the sound of autumn in Chicago, skirting under streetlights while the leaves and branches dance underneath. It's the sound of swigging from your flask of whiskey outside your ex’s window, while trying to find your cigarettes. It’s ambiguous, confused, nervous and ambivalent all at once. Mansion is a collection of cluttered pop glory.

By Stephen Sowley

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