I fell head over heels for Fences the first time I heard “Girls With Accents”. I loved everything about that track and the 2010 self-titled EP it came off of. Sadly, I really didn’t keep up with Christopher Mansfield (AKA Fences). Sure, I loved the track he did with Macklemore but, beyond that, I just haven’t dug into his new stuff much. I’m honestly still hooked on that 2010 EP and I would hate to hear some of his new stuff, not like it, and then lose my connection with that fateful EP. I have such odd fears and, with how brilliant ‘Fences’ was on that old release, can he really do wrong? Well, there’s no time like the present to face my fears so let’s dig into ‘Failure Sculptures’ (the deluxe version which is his 2019 release with two new tracks).
A sense of familiarity came over my house as “A Mission” started playing throughout my house. I honestly wanted to cry within seconds of Christopher’s vocals coming in. I feel like I have an emotional attachment to that fateful 2010 release and, therefore, have this connection to his distinct voice. It just brings me such a sense of comfort due to the smoothness of it but also comes to me like a best friend that you can tell anything to because of the rawness of his words. I honestly felt the weight I have been carrying on my shoulders for far too long instantly lift with this first track. I was so caught up in my emotions that I almost didn’t catch as the album moved on to “Paper Route”.
The thing I like about Fences is that he seems to put the vocals and words before anything else. “Paper Route” is a great example of that. The instrumentation is quiet and stays in the background as the vocals dance above the drums, bass, and guitar. One of the reasons he can do this so easily and not make the tracks feel hollow is that you can feel the weight of every word. I feel like both “Paper Route” and “Same Blues” both really show that off. From the word choice to the way they are strung into phrases to the way Christopher lays them out like his heart on his sleeve, you can feel the words and just how drenched in emotion they are. It’s almost overwhelming to listen to and I fear that I will soon be lost for words when it comes to this release because I will be so lost in the raw lyrics.
Although still far from an upbeat and dancey track, “Brass Band” picks up the tempo a little bit and seems to have an almost new sense of optimism in the sound. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an emotion-soaked track but there’s just something a bit lighter about this track that couldn’t have come at a better time. That more upbeat tempo continues with “The Park”. Even though the lyrics to this track are absolutely heartbreaking, it has a lighthearted feel to the instrumentation and even the way the words are sung. It really reminded me of “Girls With Accents” so it was so nice to know that even though years have passed, Fences still has that same vibe and sound.
I’m trying to not look a gift horse in the mouth here but I was so glad that the mood stayed more towards the lighter side for “Wooden Dove”. There’s something in this track that feels more optimistic than any of the previous tracks and it’s addicting. Although Fences does the slow and somber songs so perfectly, he does this more optimistic and warm vibe just as well and, after having a rough day yesterday, this more optimistic vibe was just what I needed.
I really love the guitar tone that kicks off the title track of this album. It stands out from things I had heard previously on this album but it fits so perfectly. It has a sense of rawness to it much like Christopher’s vocals. “Failure Sculptures” seems to split the difference between the heaviness of the first few tracks and the optimistic feeling of the past few songs but Fences reverts back to his good ole’ fashioned sad songs when it comes to “Lillia”. I mean, who doesn’t love sad songs (if you say you don’t, you’re just lying to yourself), and Fences does it so well. “Lillia” is proof. Not only is this a slow and somber track, but it’s also so full of raw power. His voice stays soft but commands you to listen without even trying. Even during the light airy chorus that can easily sweep you away into your own head, there’s an undeniable sense of energy that comes with every word.
“War Kid” comes in with an edge. A beautiful and painful edge. Although many of the lyrics in previous tracks are obviously eluding to a nasty breakup, this song looks at the topic point-blank. The track starts with the line “Doesn’t matter how fucked up this divorce gets”. I mean, it doesn’t get much rawer than that. “God Music” brings a bit of bitterness to this story of divorce in such a painful but beautiful way. These two tracks are powerful on their own but, together, it’s absolutely breathtaking. It takes a lot of guts to wear your heart on your sleeve like that and to put it out on an album above that but Fences does it with so much conviction, so much power, so much heart… it’s stunning. No other way to put it.
This deluxe version of ‘Failure Sculptures’ ends with an acoustic version of both “A Mission” and “God Music”. I’ll be honest, if someone asked me to describe Fences’ music, the word “acoustic” would probably come up so I was a bit confused as to how he would make these two tracks more acoustic but, as I listened to them, I got it. Sure, Fences voice is beautiful and the instrumentation is mostly sparse but it’s there. These final two tracks really give you the full effect that Fences’ voice has on its own and it left me speechless (and maybe in tears).
I take my music seriously and sometimes think I have a better relationship with musicians I’ve never met than I do with my own best friends. Fences is one of those musicians. His music has seen me through heartbreaks and triumphs. He never judges me and only acts as a shoulder to cry on or a song to smile at. I was so scared that new music could ruin that relationship but deep down I knew there was no way for that to happen. Fences’ voice, his words, his music– there’s just too much power, emotion, and conviction for it to ever change.
My Favorite Track(s): “A Mission”
For Fans Of: Slow, Sad Songs; Emotion; Raw Emotion; Did I Say Emotion?
Daydream-ability: 8 out of 10
What My Cats Thought Of It: Artie laid right next to my desk; Autumn slept upstairs
How Badly I Want To See This Performed Live: 10 out of 10 (I have never seen Fences live for the same reason I was hesitant to check out his new music)
My Overall Rating: 9 out of 10 (but I’m honestly a little biased)
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