Mansions is the brainchild of Christopher Browder, who sings and plays every instrument when the “band” records. Browder has been releasing music under the moniker Mansions for a few years now, and while he’s been slowly building up a following, Dig Up the Dead is what really set the hype machine in motion.
Mansions often receives comparisons to Brand New and Manchester Orchestra, and while those are certainly fair, I find Kevin Devine to be a better comparison. Browder has the same understated vocal delivery as Devine, warbles and all, and similar tempo in his tracks as well. However, while Devine contrasts his often dark lyrics with light and friendly instrumentation, Mansions features more distorted guitars and comes off as heavier and darker throughout.
Dig Up the Dead is certainly a dark record, both lyrically and sonically. The tracks are usually slow and brooding, and Browder’s voice is often steeped in disappointment as he sings lines like "Well I have never been free, but I have always been cheap."
Although each track on Dig Up the Dead can hold its own, some of the tracks are so similar in pace and melody that they begin to blur together. This is particularly true in the middle of the disc, where the weakest tracks are found and the disc starts to drag. One thing in particular that seems to hold the album back during this portion is Browder’s vocal delivery: During this section his voice stays within a very limited range and sounds so unenthusiastic that the tracks here simply begin to feel boring.
It’s too bad that Mansions sticks within similar song types as the disc goes on, because he shows early on that he can be versatile when tries. One of the strongest tracks on the disc is the second track, “Blackest Sky”, which would be a standout even without its catchy chorus by virtue of it being one of the only fast-paced tracks on here.
Even if I don’t share the same enthusiasm for this album as many others, it’s easy to see why it has been so well-received. The production on it is great, and there’s something about the atmosphere Browder creates on the disc that makes it sound important. Each track, taken on its own, is fairly solid, and there are a few standout tracks sprinkled at the beginning and end of the disc. Unfortunately, the lack of variety and weak middle prevent Dig Up the Dead from reaching its full potential, and simply leaves one wanting more.