Before Monday, I wasn’t aware music could be played while comatose. Sure enough, though, Minnesota quintet Spiritual Mansions are visionaries in that regard and display their raw talent over the course of their first full-length album, Touched. Even the press release declares the band “cut[s] against the grain.” Certainly, writing and playing songs at a beats-per-minute rate of near-death would be different from anyone else. No one can argue that, but a band that really isn’t there will only attract many fans suffering from insomnia. Or, for that matter, fans with have a level of patience a vampire would envy.
The problem is this: The songs aren’t bad per se — they’re just frustratingly boring and wholly achromatic. The press release labels the 11 songs here as “examples of sneaky, catchy pop.” Well, it’s half right. No doubt the songs’ catchiness is sneaky. “Nonexistent” is more accurate, but “sneaky” works. As for the whole “pop” thing, that’s debatable. A pop song inherently has to be memorable to qualify as such, but none of the songs found on this album are. Instead, the purported melodies slink past the hippocampus with more expertise than Solid Snake.
Then there’s singer/guitarist Ryan Harris’ voice. Harris sounds like an Americanized version of latter-day Morrissey without the effort or emotion filtered through Isaac Slade. Sadly, that’s not even the worst part. He’s not engaging as a vocalist on any level. To classify Harris’ voice as uninteresting is to classify the Pacific Ocean as slightly wet. Harris sings as if he has no soul — not exactly fitting for pop music. Whether a complete success or a complete failure (depending on your view), Harris is just ineffectual as a singer in every way.
All that said, some of the songs actually do suggest not every track on Touched was written by someone without a pulse. These tracks are also the only listenable ones. “Song for a Liar” skips along and even has an organ solo (you’d have to be awake to play a solo, right?), and album closer “Three Day Weekend” bounces around spacey background keyboard effects.
The lyrics, therefore, are the only saving grace of this catatonic record. “Weekend” is lyrically the best song on the record and includes the opening gem, “All you need’s a three day weekend/ It’s important to disappear/ All you want is a mild distraction/ There’s no good in staying here.” Elsewhere, “The Sweeter Side” discusses the idea that the singer’s “sweeter side” is only seen if you do him a favor like writing him a poem or killing a rabbit and removing its feet as a gift. Whether he’s being sarcastic or serious doesn’t matter; the song is entertaining either way. “State Song” uses various states to describe a girl (example: “She’s got eyes like Minnesota and a voice like Illinois”). While the song isn’t cookie-cutter, it is a shame the entire concept was seemingly lifted from a Soundgarden lyric.
At 39 minutes, Touched is a succinct affair, yet feels twice that long. It’s too bad, then, that Spiritual Mansions weren’t given electroconvulsive therapy to wake them up prior to recording. It might’ve worked.
2 stars out of 5.