Those Elliott Smith/Fences Comparisons Aren't Just Unwarranted, They're Not Fair

Artist: Fences

Album: Fences

Release Date: Sept. 28

Label: Onto Entertainment

Rating (Skip, Stream, Buy): Stream

Local Show: Thursday, Sept. 23, The Crocodile

Chris Mansfield--AKA Fences--has a promising record and a back story (Look at that ink-faced kid who's been to rehab! Is he going to make it to the show?). Careers have been made with far less. His morose, acoustic fare has been unrelentingly compared that of Elliott Smith, a dark, tender songwriter who, before his untimely death, could do more with less--to say nothing of what he could do with complexity--than anyone in his class. Smith's music--not his personal demons--was the focal point in his narrative until the day he died. With Mansfield, his person struggles have been something of a selling point (his press material refers to Mansfield as a "self-proclaimed fuck-up.")

We in the Northwest are lousy with the shadows of celebrity rock's past. And we're consistently on edge of finding the next thing, lest we be shamed with the knowledge that we were the last--even if by 10 minutes--to latch onto the new best thing. We sometimes forget how great our legends were/are. In comparing Mansfield to Smith, we're not just setting him up for failure, we're setting him up for unreasonable comparisons to one of the best singers and songwriters in a generation (see the next few paragraphs), a guy who could arrest his listeners by whispering "Needle in the haaaaaaa-eeeee-aaaa-yyyyyyyyy." It's not fair.

In a sense, some of the most ham-fisted comparisons aren't out of line. Both artists are young men who write confessional, precious pop. And Mansfield's chorus on Girls With Accents, "I'm fucking up, I'm fucking up, I'm fucking up everything," is as blatant as Smith's Everything Means Nothing to Me, if not as heartbreakingly beautiful.

Fences, the album, is not unlike Fences the live show in that it's a moody, sparse, rather plain affair that beg for greater understanding below the surface. His vocals are equally unaffected, often sounding like little less than an excited talking voice (see album started "Boys Around Here").

Like Smith, Mansfield does his best to stay out of the way of his songs., and he's proven that he has the ability to write a song that speaks to the gut and not the head ("My Girl the Horse"), but he is albums and tours away from his full potential.

His is a story worth following.

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