A lot of changes have transpired for Glass Mansions since we last reviewed them here – no longer called Death of Paris, and now stripped down to the duo of Jayna Doyle (vocals) and Blake Arambula (electronics/ guitars), the Columbia synth pop act has released their second EP, Ritual. While still working a style of music that would resonate with many listeners, the band is delving in territory that not many explore around Columbia or even South Carolina in general. Citing the unique workflow and dynamic they developed in Atlanta with producers Zack Odom and Kenneth Mount, the band returned to them to help make this EP as well. It seems like indie-tronica bands are a dime a dozen, but striving for a pure pop sound is still under-rated by the cognescenti of the Palmetto State… as Arambula says, “We might not be included on any SC samplers, but we are still a part of South Carolina music”, which is a shame, because Glass Mansions have both the chops and the road warrior ethic to be huge one day. How many DIY Pop bands can you name?
The robotic heartbeat at the beginning of opener “Landmines” still finds humanity at its core. ’80s-style electronics coupled with distorted power chords from Arambula build until Jayna Doyle comes in with a fierce yet seductive Lady Gaga-ish attitude. The breakdown keeps a steady buildup so her sultry, R&B-infused lyrics never lose their flow. The song is always driving with its attack, but never loses focus on danceability, programmed effects creating little rivers of percussion that flow through canyons of pop. “Just Friends” and its heavy techno intro gives the processed vocals a chance to work around the funky pop that the chorus is about to preach. The little guitar fills and that straight-outta-1987 solo (man, that could be Def Leppard, Hysteria-era!) are more “rock” than most “electro” bands nowadays have the balls to churn out. Doyle is content to just wail out her discontent; she riffs over the melee with her soulful voice part referee, part stage manager. And then comes “Nightswimming“, one of the previous singles and the pop gem in the band’s big bag of jewelry. Jayna could be speaking of either a relationship or the difficulties of being a DIY band from South Carolina trying to mine a genre that seems to be shunned locally (“But I’m sinking/ wading between little victories”). Maybe the most radio-rad thing they have done and this from a band that is unabashedly pop to their very center. “If You Need Me, Don’t” is strong modern pop with an ’80s sensibility, always driving, always aware that keeping the listener moving is the goal of goals. When Doyle warns her subject, “Run from me/ I’m a wolf cutting teeth/ gold electricity”, all should take notice. Last song “Tunnel Vision” has that kind of resolute electro intro that would make LCD Soundsystem proud; the beat is rock solid and Jayna rides it til it morphs into an anthemic fight song. The glitched-out mid-section then cascades into a crescendo that fades out , leaving all of us to ponder whether she really won or not.
As a duo, the band is pared down to its most specific and important strengths- Jayna Doyle’s powerful voice and introspective lyrics coupled with Blake Arambula’s stick-to-your-ribs musical hooks. As Blake states about the downsizing, “It hit us that the notion of having to be a traditional 4-piece band was outdated. There’s been this paradigm shift happening in music where it doesn’t matter if you have live drums on stage, or a bass guitar, but that you are there performing, connecting and engaging with the audience and winning over strangers. You’re given 30 minutes to impress and resonate with everyone else in the room – the way you deliver it to them doesn’t matter anymore.” Lyrically, Doyle is laying it all out there with songs about bad relationships and the will to overcome. Musically, the band is built on the past- but its relevant, not reductive. South Carolina needs a band like Glass Mansions to help punch us all into the future.
Recommended if you like: Lady Gaga, Annie Lennox, Ke$ha
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.