J. Robbins - Abandoned Mansions [EP] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

J. Robbins

Abandoned Mansions [EP] (2014)


While he now spends most of his time producing and parenting, J. Robbins still finds time for performing music as well. His old band Channels recently did a couple of reunion shows, and he also did a string of acoustic sets as well. His new EP, Abandoned Mansions, is meant to document those shows. Featuring acoustic, studio rerecordings of tunes from Robbins' bands Jawbox, Burning Airlines and Office of Future Plans, plus a new song, Abandoned Mansions is a brief but entertaining shot from a gentleman who has been a fixture in punk rock since the '80s with Government Issue.

Available only as a download via Bandcamp, Abandoned Mansions is best served to die hard fans. Supported by Brooks Harlan on piano and Gordon Withers on cello (himself no stranger to adapting Robbins' songs for acoustic settings), Robbins strips his normally loud, intricate guitar tracks down to their most intimate basics. The results are just as melodious.

"Aviary," better known as "Outside the Aviary" from Burning Airlines' Identikit, opens the six—song EP. Those familiar with the original know it for its propulsive beat and throaty vocals, making this version, with its haunting keyboard hook, quite stark. Given that the trio plays together in Office of Future Plans, it's not surprising that they redo two of that outfit's songs, "Lorelei" and set closer "Salamander."

"Abandoned Mansions," the lone new song, is surprising though. Over choppy piano chords, Robbins shouts (ever so slightly) about fading glories. As a lyricist, he tends towards the surreal, so hearing him relatively more literal here is a twist. "Abandoned Mansions" is a super catchy track, one that will hopefully get a full band arrangement should Office of Future Plans ever issue a second full—length.

Ah, but what about the legendary Jawbox? Robbins offers up takes on "Spoiler" and "68," and they're obviously solid. But coming after something completely new and promising like "Abandoned Mansions," it's hard to get as excited. Still, the EP is strong throughout. Given how hard it is to catch Robbins in concert, especially outside of the East Coast, Abandoned Mansions is a welcome, but brief, return.