Los Angeles' Mini Mansions make dark psych-pop that echoes the smoldering rock and plentiful hooks of its members' other bands: Singer/multi-instrumentalist Michael Shuman plays bass for Queens of the Stone Age, bassist Zach Dawes also works with the Last Shadow Puppets, and singer/keyboardist Tyler Parkford is a touring member of Arctic Monkeys. However, Mini Mansions explore the glamorous surfaces and seedy underbelly of their hometown with a wit and irony all their own, whether giving Blondie's "Heart of Glass" a glacial makeover or balancing theatrics with soul-baring vocals on releases such as 2015's The Great Pretenders and 2019's Guy Walks Into a Bar…. Mini Mansions was built on long-running friendships: Shuman and Dawes were childhood pals, and Dawes met Parkford when they went to school in Santa Cruz, California. Dawes sent Shuman some of Parkford's songs in 2005, and when Parkford returned to Los Angeles in 2008, they planned to make music together. The trio officially became Mini Mansions in 2009 after Queens of the Stone Age finished touring in support of Era Vulgaris. Shuman and Parkford picked the best of the songs they had already written and made those into a self-released EP they issued later in 2009. Mini Mansions continued recording, with QOTSA frontman Josh Homme mixing some tracks, and they readied their self-titled debut album. The single Monk, which featured a slow-motion cover of Blondie's "Heart of Glass," arrived in June 2010 on Psychedelic Judaism, and Mini Mansions was issued by Ipecac Records and Homme's Rekords Rekords imprint that November. In 2012, the band released a handful of songs that didn't make it onto the album as the Besides EP. Mini Mansions spent two and a half years writing their second album and recorded it at L.A.'s Vox Recording Studios with special guests including the Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner and Brian Wilson (Dawes also played bass on a session for Wilson's 2015 album No Pier Pressure). T-Bone Burnett's Electro Magnetic imprint released The Great Pretenders in March 2015. Flashbacks, which collected B-sides and previously unreleased tracks from The Great Pretenders sessions, appeared as a crowd-funded release in 2016. After spending some time working with their other bands, Dawes, Parkford, and Shuman reconvened as Mini Mansions for 2018's Works Every Time. Recorded with The Great Pretenders co-producer Cian Riordan, the EP featured some of the band's most personal songs as well as a cover of Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You." The EP's title track also appeared on Mini Mansions' third full-length, July 2019's Guy Walks Into a Bar…. Tracing the course of an ill-fated relationship of Shuman's, the album included cameos by the Kills' Alison Mosshart, Z. Berg (formerly of the Like) and QOTSA drummer Jon Theodore. ~ Heather Phares
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Rock - Released March 23, 2015 | Capitol Records, LLC
Given that they've had releases on labels run by Josh Homme and Mike Patton, it's no secret that Mini Mansions have friends in high places. Still, the amount of star power surrounding the band's third album is notable: not only is The Great Pretenders on T-Bone Burnett's Electromagnetic imprint, it features collaborations with Brian Wilson and Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner. However, the band is never overshadowed by these connections, largely because this is their strongest work yet. They spent two and a half years honing these songs, and more than ever, the album finds Mini Mansions living up to their name: The Great Pretenders is compact yet lavish, with melodies that sparkle like a chandelier and production that gleams like newly polished silverware. Songs like the breathy and breezy "Death Is a Girl" and "Heart of Stone" are quintessential Mini Mansions, with their airy keyboards and Beatles-meets-ELO vibe, while "Honey, I'm Home" recalls the kind of bouncy yet sinister pop that happens when Michael Shuman's other band Queens of the Stone Age gets near a piano. Yet Mini Mansions sound more modern and streamlined on The Great Pretenders than ever before, even when they break out the glitter on the glam flashbacks "Fantasy" and "Creeps," where Shuman sings "nothin's gonna get too deep." This deceptively blasé vibe permeates the album's jaunty melodies and deadpan lyrics, suggesting that Mini Mansions are most genuine when they're wickedly ironic. This is particularly true of the tracks featuring guest stars: Wilson is a perfect fit as a backing vocalist on "Any Emotions," adding a bittersweet tinge to its determined detachment. Meanwhile, Turner embodies the dark side of the band's cheery disdain on "Vertigo," where The Great Pretenders' seedy undercurrent rises to the surface. Though they get heavier on the album's second half -- most successfully on "Mirror Mountain"'s gut-punching outbursts -- it's the way they bring their pop skills to the fore that makes The Great Pretenders solid evidence that Mini Mansions should be as well-known as the company they keep. ~ Heather Phares
Alternative & Indie - Released September 28, 2018 | Fiction
Two years after the release of The Great Pretenders, Mini Mansions' Michael Shuman, Zach Dawes, and Tyler Parkford finally had some downtime from their other bands -- Queens of the Stone Age, Last Shadow Puppets, and Arctic Monkeys, respectively -- to record some of their own songs. As on The Great Pretenders, the Works Every Time EP reveals more of Mini Mansions' vulnerability without losing any of their music's glitz and glam. The title track is one of the band's smoothest, poppiest songs yet, with glistening synths and '80s guitar solos polishing soul-baring lyrics like "I don't even know what I'm looking for" to a high shine. Later, "This Bullet"'s synth rock conflates falling in love with a death wish. There's more than a little synthwave influence on Works Every Time, but Mini Mansions come by it honestly; keyboards have been an integral part of their sound since the start, and the juxtaposition of sexy electro sounds and desperate words on "Midnight in Tokyo" proves they know how to wield a synth more expressively than many up-and-comers. While the industrial-tinged reworking of Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You" isn't quite as strong as some of their other covers, it echoes the way the EP's original songs teeter between lust and anxiety. As it distills where they've been and where they're going, Works Every Time reaffirms that Mini Mansions' EPs are just as important to their body of work as their albums. ~ Heather Phares
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