San Francisco is a haven for some of the best garage rock the past few years have had to offer with Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Sonny and the Sunsets, and Kelley Stoltz, just to name a few. There are a lot more bands and they are all worth checking out, providing their own unique take on garage rock and revitalizing a genre that has been done to death since the late ’60s. The Mantles offer a prettier take on that sound than many of their peers with jangly guitars and a greater emphasis on melodic songwriting, often playing gently as opposed to bashing their instruments in to oblivion.
“Marbled Birds” leads off Long Enough to Leave and perfectly showcases what the Mantles are about, providing a Byrds-ian chiming guitar line, a mellow rhythm section, and sleepy vocals from singer Michael Olivares reminiscent of Loaded-era Lou Reed. Throughout Long Enough to Leave, the band adds synthesizer atmosphere to accentuate the dreamy sound of the songs. These are pop songs written by someone who sounds only partially awake most of the time and it definitely fits the band’s vibe. On the title track, Olivares genuinely sounds exhausted as he sings “Long enough to leave home” before the song opens up with bits of piano accentuating it and Olivares sings “Always coming back to see how far I can go”. You can hear the exhaustion in his voice and feel the miles on tour take their toll. Lyrically Olivares sings about everyday, regularly mundane subjects in a cool, soft, dude-speak. He doesn’t necessarily say anything profound about modern living but he comes off like someone who looks a little deeper in to everyday situations than the average person.
“Reason’s Run” sounds like an early ’90s stand out from the Clean in its carefree rollicking. You can hear how much the band enjoys making music with each other in their playing. It’s the type of song that you know you’re going to like as soon as you hear the first four chords. Lead guitarist Drew Cramer plays elegantly written leads over rhythm guitars that can recall mid-’90s Counting Crows filtered through the chilled out reverb sound of bands like Beach Fossils and Real Estate. “Hello” follows with verses that remind me of “I Can’t Explain”-era the Who before drifting in to a softer bridge reminiscent of the Dream Syndicate. San Francisco garage rock kingpin Kelley Stoltz produced the album and he does a great job in capturing the essence of the Mantles. The album isn’t slick sounding but every instrument is perfectly crisp and holds its own sonic space.
Bands like the Velvets and L.A.’s Paisley Underground period are in the DNA of the Mantles and while they certainly channel bands like the Dream Syndicate, the rhythm section plays with the giddy simplicity of late ’80s/early ’90s New Zealand bands like the Bats and the Clean. Olivares’ gentle singing style also reminds me of Ray Davies of the Kinks at times. “Raspberry Thighs” could easily be a track from Real Estate’s 2011 album Days with its heavily reverbed leads, acoustic rhythm guitars, and soft-rock approach. The back half of Long Enough to Leave is pleasant enough but the songs don’t stick like they do on the first half.
The Mantles are to the San Francisco garage rock scene what Matthew Sweet was to alternative rock in the ’90s. They have the same hallmarks as their peers but their approach is a bit more straight-ahead pop rock than the weirdo thrashing of bands like Thee Oh Sees and White Fence. The Mantles make music that soothes rather than thrashes. Even though the Mantles rock rather gently, the songs on Long Enough to Leave still reach out, grab you, and leave a mark.