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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Ballads for Stairs and Transparencies
Nobody's Favorite Records

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
The name The Brands suggests a band, but this is actually just one man, Mark Mandeville, who plays almost all the instruments on Ballads for Stairs and Transparencies. It's mostly his acoustic guitar with some percussion, but the elements are brought together with a beguiling degree of focus - he doesn't get lost in the opportunities allowed to a musician working on his own.

All that's left after the music is the voice and the words themselves. Mandeville's voice has that distinctive quaver that instantly conjurs up images of Connor Oberst, although Mandeville doesn't go to the highs and lows of Bright Eyes. The lyrics are a cut above the broken-relationship whining many acoustic musicians engage in, and although he does sing about relationships Mandeville wraps the story in enough figurative speech and odd phrasing to keep away from the cliches.

Sometimes sparse music from an unknown artist with no notable history or connections or background tempts the listener to look harder and harder until he or she sees things that aren't there, and after repeated listens it's tempting to think Ballads for Stairs and Transparencies is an amazing record. In reality, it is simply a decent acoustic album that could probably fit in comfortably, if not very noticeably, in any coffee shop, film soundtrack or basement bedroom.

Nothing on Ballads for Stairs and Transparencies is incredible, but in avoiding so many of the pitfalls of solo recording (or "the formerly forbidden fruit they call 'creative control'" as the flowery press release calls it) Mandeville has shown he has, at the least, the potential to make exceptional music.

Reviewed by Erick Bieritz
Erick Bieritz lives in Chicago, where is usually either very hot or very cold. He was the brainchild behind EPMD, where he wrote about EPs and singles for LAS, looking for overlooked or underappreciated non-album releases.

See other reviews by Erick Bieritz



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