If there’s one thing the Seattle music scene is good at, it’s providing the perfect soundtrack to the melancholic, flannel-filled grey months that make up fall and winter in the Pacific Northwest.
The long-awaited self-titled debut from Fences, the solo project of heavily-tatted, mumbling folkie Christopher Mansfield that has been on shelves for a few weeks, is just another album that continues in that long tradition.
Fences keeps it soft and sentimental, like Bon Iver jamming with Midlake. But for a quiet folk album, Fences gets right to the point. Opening track “Boys Around Here” immediately grabs your attention with impossible-to-deny double-tracked vocals over droning-yet-dull guitar chords, then with a heavy-handed piano line that offsets Mansfield’s sympathy-inducing chorus of “The boys around here don’t respect me, don’t respect me at all.”
The clever use of short and sweet keyboard and piano hooks against bittersweet vocals pops up throughout the album — most notably the echoed-out Rhodes behind “Girls With Accents,” with its Elliott Smith-worthy chorus of “I’m fucking up everything,” and the chiming toy piano to “The Same Tattoos.”
For the most part, Fences adheres to the same blueprint — softly finger-picked acoustic guitars, phased-out drums, hyper-syllabic vocals a la Bright Eyes — and that’s where the album shines. When the songs turn up the volume is when things go awry, however. In particular, “Sadie” is a sore spot, starting off with a riff borrowed from Matchbox 20, and full of amateurish lyrics that are not on par with the rest of the record.
Fortunately a few missteps don’t derail the album and though Mansfield’s influences are front and center (Bon Iver, U2, Bright Eyes) he does a commendable job of melding them together to make a sound all his own.