"Jury Duty" + "Young/Lovely" - Henry Mansfield
I’ve watched people be plenty indecisive during the biding inhale of my life. At restaurants, over travel plans, while relocating for work, and as they make irreversible decisions in the face of self-defining situations. That’s how it tends to work, the older we get the greater the distance between each step forward grows, and the more its looming pit of consequence deepens. I feel like a self-righteous preacher saying that to anyone reading this, the whole of us who are in a global pandemic as well as the visible resurfacing of a civil rights movement that never ended. By now we’re all members of a choir screaming at the top of our lungs for every emotion we’ve ever felt, and, for a lot of us, at all the pain we’ve caused others oftentimes unknowingly. This is where we as a whole are, alongside each other whether or not we accept it.
I spent 8 whole weeks practically staring into space between late March and most of May, and watched the world fumble to figure out how to put itself on pause. Some resisted, others collapsed from the unanticipated horror of inactivity. I hear a lot of couples found out they weren’t meant to be. You learn things have lasting impacts; at some point we all accepted the situation we’re in isn’t going to just pull a full stop one day, but resonate throughout the way we live our lives for a long while. Then we all got angry. And though everything going on right now isn’t over, and in a lot of ways should not end, tell me this isn’t the first time in a very long time you’ve really understood what it means to be next to each other and what it does to you to feel the resonance of other voices.
Henry Mansfield released 2 songs to a quiet crowd this June, and they slipped under the radar as so many great songs do. It isn’t often a song’s name or cover art can give you an impression of what lies waiting in a listen, and to glance over these would be anyone’s loss. You can’t convince me this is any less than an artist who knows his capabilities, grabbing onto the reigns of massive ideas and seeing them to their greatest heights, because there’s not a hint of doubt or questioning towards how mythical these songs are. These songs could not be realized in any smaller capacity, they were made to call you to the present, and that speaks to Mansfield operating at his full potential.
The first notes of Jury Duty guide you through the moment a hopeful thought is corroded by anxieties. A singular note clustering towards the end of thought like a response that bitters when you realize how what you’ve said sounds. Deprived of a downbeat resolution, it cuts off as though saying more will only worsen things. Three notes thrashed against each other; there’s nowhere else to go that wouldn’t be utter chaos. You’re in the middle of a conversation, one you’ve had many times before. The breath in the piano and all its reflections really set the scene splendidly. Above all things, Jury Duty speaks to what it’s like to try to a dozen different methods to say the same thing. The beating of perspectives against each other in a frenzied effort to align feelings.
There’s something uniquely inspiring about the combination of sounds here. It’s never extraneously showy, although recorded in paralyzingly stunning quality, and it would be far-fetched to imply there’s some technical magic happening. Both these songs boiled down to their core are rock songs that reach for so much more. Henry Mansfield shows an all-engrossing mastery of emotions, music is just his toolkit. As author’s choice of prosody determines the intensity of a scene, so does Mansfield meticulously recreate the walls of the room where this conversation is happening. He doesn’t just repeat the same objectionable clashing of keys under “Loaded down with compromise / And purple with potential in our breath” with no purpose. You know where you are immediately, in fact you know who you’re talking to. To assume this is all some accidental brilliance would be an insult to the writer who in two lines now has you somewhere he’s never been but you’re all too familiar with. Its gut-wrenching because Mansfield knows how it feels, and for a song describing the efforts to find similar ground with someone, he’s clearly come out of it hearing the voices of others a lot clearer.
Each passing anecdote (“Whispers late at night into the phone”, “From parking fines and shoulders on the street”) accumulates into a larger picture, or more aptly a mirror cast, and showcases an artist drifting through words like vessels, all the right ones bursting with the emotions invested in them. There are two lyrical high points in this song that have me sympathetically mimicking what I’m being told. “Hold my hand and say it with me / I am not my insecurity” and “Let’s break the floor beneath our beds and dig for something we lost / I can’t remember what it’s called but I miss it”. It’s easy to assume that in all this anxious pacing, the freeze frames of less than glamorous nights, that the tone here is one of desperation. You’d be wrong to think so, and wrong to think that the motivation behind any of this is less than a complete and enthralling passion for the most human connections during the hardest experiences. Jury Duty is a compilation of the worst nights made heroic, artfully poised to expose the beauty in our impassioned efforts towards transcendence.
Young/Lovely calls like a signal you’ve been waiting to hear your whole life, and as far as energy goes, it’s like lighting a 500-gram firework to a dark night. Both of these songs start like they’re announcing themselves, like fanfare preceding a procession. In one verse we’re at a baseball game watching a Safeco screen and immediately weighing the options in a situation with more layers and factors than any one decision can tie together. There’s nothing more accurate to how that transition happens in life or how quickly the weight is put on, and suddenly you’re “not laughing as loud as I used to”.
It’s here that Mansfield leads the pack in ceremonious decimation and speaks to the heart of a generation. “Hang my bachelor’s degree from the ceiling / Buy a fat plastic bat down the street / I’m hosting a party, let’s take a few swings / See what comes out beyond candy”. Words alone don’t necessarily make an epic, but it’s hard to describe what does. Maybe it’s how the song stops whenever he goes to sing, and his voice alone paints the image of these lines, or how the crashing motion of the melody provides movement to the scene. Perhaps it’s that every single part of this song calls you to feel, addresses a kink in the fabric, and beckons you not to be alone in this world we’re all trapped inside right now. So, if you’re by yourself right now, as many of us are, he presents a compromise, and you can sing along to the roaring chant and light up the night with him. In a car with the windows down and music blaring, with your friends, or alone at home on a Saturday night, but always in this world stuck with everyone else. “If we can’t be young and lovely / We will just be young”.