If you lived in San Francisco at a certain time (the garage-rock haven of the early 2010s) at a certain point in your life (somewhere between 25 – 35) and you were any sort of authority on music (I’m not, but hey we can dream of something besides all-you-can-eat swirl ice cream cones) you were expected to like The Mantles. It wasn’t a question, or an opinion, it was a stated fact – The Mantles are (were) good, and you have (had) no choice but to enjoy them, regardless of your stated opinions. At the one and only Mantles’ show I attended – in a dingy warehouse in Oakland – I found my brain wandering, my drinking increasing, my memory of the event foggy and indistinct. ‘Cause, hey now, I don’t like The Mantles. I don’t know why, their brand of pop leaning garage-rock was perfectly fine, a sort of harbinger of San Francisco’s evolution from fuzzed-out rock town to pop-heavy, er, convoluted-mess-town, they just didn’t register with me. They fell through the cracks of everything else that was going on, and because so much else was going on, they just slid off me. But, I’m still drawn to the name, and when I was lurking about the net this week hoping San Francisco might cough up something for me to write about I saw that The Mantles’ frontman Michael O. was releasing a new album, a solo project you might say. And, well, from what I’ve heard, it’s very, very good. Call it internal growth as a music listener, or a just an evolution of taste, but Michael O. has taken the at times undefinable sound of The Mantles circa-2010 – all that jangle, all that fuzz – and turned it into what feels like a tempo-drunk, acoustic take on a Ramones’ album. It’s earnest – it’s heart pumping and bleeding on a velvet sleeve – but the earnestness isn’t just out in the open, hoping someone will hug it, nah, it’s immersed in the thin shreds of basement-recorded guitar and Michael O’s sneering voice. It’s at once jangle-soaked happiness, but with that near unseeable line of darkness that gives it a shadow that gives it depth. I’ll give it a high compliment: Michael O’s solo work makes me wonder if The Mantles’ really were worth the hype and I just turned my nose and missed the boat.
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