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Charles Mansfield | Monday Morning

album review by Olaya Barr

Charles Mansfield | Monday Morning

Monday Morning feels much like my Monday mornings: not so much fresh and crisp, but more gruff and a grungy folk way. Charles Mansfield released his new EP, Monday Morning, this summer and his influences of the haunting and playful PJ Harvey and experimental Frank Black are transparent in his tunes. Unlike many folk-indie musicians now on the rise, Mansfield doesn't focus on melodious harmonies and Americana roadtrip ballads to drive the songs, but instead opts for a down to earth feel that pairs his unassuming talking voice with some catchy guitar strum tunes. The Monday Morning album is full of charming hooks, but the songs can feel a bit formulaic and contained by an open-mic night type setting.

Charles Mansfield uses, as his trademark, an incredibly clear storytelling tone. This American voice is debateably on the border between charming and irritating, depending on if you interpret a speaking voice as likeable or pretentious. If you want to listen to a grizzly husky voice reaching high notes and stretching his vocals as he sings, or a quivering Bon Iver, you won't get it. However, you will hear what sounds like your college-grad older brother offering a realistic voice. In this way, what Charles Mansfield is really quite reminiscent of is the Mountain Goats. Perhaps not as "militantly lo-fi" as the Mountain Goats have been dubbed, Mansfield definitely uses the originality of his speaking voice as a driving force in his songs, much like John Darnielle does in the former. He accentuates strong consonants and nasaly vowels to add echoes and density to his voice and give an original twist to americana folk music. He avoids wineyness, and it works.

Although his voice is a strong push in the songs, the lyrics aren't as memorable or compelling. The western twangs and Mark Knopfler style guitar picking in the fifth track, "We Can't Be Friends" are great, but the elementary lyrics feel a bit like a cop out: "We can't/ Be friends/ 'Cause I/ Hate you". Other musicians who use a storytelling voice use it to propel the lyrics: Jonathan Richman who matches his wacky storytelling voice with wacky stories, or Johnny Flynn who integrates poetry and literature into his lyrics. Mansfield doesn't go too wacky or too poetic.

But that being said, Mansfield's simplistic conversational lyrics really do work in "Into Eachother's Eyes," an indie romantic track. Reminisicent of Blitzen Trapper and hoppy Elvis Perkins: "We fell into eachother's eyes and ears and mouths and hands clapping and fingers clasping around". The catchy guitar strums with the reminiscing lyrics and run-on sentence style make for a great song.

A strength of Charles Mansfield's music is that it seems to transport the listener to a different atmosphere. The song "Monday Morning," with its epic hiking rhythms and heaped on guitar and echos, really felt like the soundtrack to a night drive through rural and misty Vermont, through marshy river banks, moonlight basking on the road. "Not Easy to Return" with its rough rhtyhm and twanging notes transported me to a smoky saloon bar. He knows how to pair his voice and guitar chords beautifully.

This new album is a progression after his slower, more pacific and dreamy All the Way EP released in January 2010. This new stuff isn't sleepy and is much more varied. "Rome, NY" is an eery take on traditional folk, like a haunting Americana train ride, whereas "Into Eachother's Eyes" is more of a nostalgic romance song. Monday Morning is down to earth and a bit rugged.

Bottom line: Five songs is just enough.


0 # Maria Donapetry 2011-11-09 11:17
Great review. Intelligent and really helpful.


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