Mansions by Future Lives

Release date: June 27, 2017
Label: Soft Magic Records

Future Lives is a new folky country rock band based in Athens, Georgia, coalescing around six main musicians, although fourteen actually played on their debut Mansions. Songwriter, singer and guitarist Brandon Taj Hanick, also of King of Prussia is the chief instigator and musical force around which this whole album revolves, although it was slide guitarist John Neff, previously of The Drive By Truckers, whose name pulled me in. Mansions is Hanick’s attempt to tell the story of how this inveterate wanderer came to settle down in the South with his wife. It’s a concept album, something we normally associate with progressive rock, but of course country and folk have just as much of a rich history of concept albums, with artists as diverse as Willy Nelson and Sufjan Stevens having produced some of the very finest of the genre.

The album is a virtual travelogue and from the opening track ‘Kazakhstan’ with it’s numerous cities name checked as the lovers discuss where to go next – ” ..Barcelona once again” you get the feeling here is a story ready for it’s next chapter. As Hanick put it himself in a recent interview with website Mother Church Pew: “The album explores settling down without settling, and growing up without growing old.”

Mansions would serve equally well working on a broader canvas as the soundtrack to some quirky indie rom-com as the songs follow the adventures of Hanick and his lover(s) across continents as they smash happily together and drift apart, only for it all to end with ‘The Vanishers’ and the married couple retreating from view to consummate their love and put down roots, no more desire to roam.

Along the way the band take in various styles and influences, from the poppy ‘St John’s Fair’ with an afrobeat inflected indie rock edge, to the classic pure country of ‘The Knowing’, which even starts with a train whistle and has the same lovely sincerity of Gram Parsons, and also a masterful Dylan-esque waltz on ‘Continental Drift Divide’. There are moments where Hanick with his boyish voice and frank declarations of love, along with the gorgeous cooing vocals of Sarah Robbins can stray too close to twee for this reviewer so that occasionally the band sound like a U.S. version of Belle & Sebastian. Usually though Hanick swerves it by the frequent inclusions of some very sarky and wise-ass lyrics. Pick of the bunch for me is ‘California Vibe’ – the bands Go-Betweens influence is most prominent, where the sunny vibe, with constant brightly decorative slide by Neff,  is undercut by lyrics suggesting class warfare and Hanick stuttering “I never dreamed of having a fu-fu-fu functioning family“.

Unwavering in it’s upbeat mood and sound Mansions won’t be a record for all times and seasons but it is hard to take a dislike to it when the songs are so full of charm and adventure. Only a churl would criticise an album that comes with such a heartwarming tale and several of these songs will be accompanying me on my travels over the summer.

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