Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Without knowing the full or even a partially complete story of Christopher Mansfield's life, we can convince ourselves, with great certainty that he has been through some graphic stuff. You can hear it in his voice and you can read it in his clear and leaden choice of words, in the construction of the spectacularly beaten and bruised melodies that he tacks those words onto, all of which become his songs for Fences. He has been left for dead, given for dead, dismantled and dismissed. He's been forgotten about and he's gone cruelly unloved. It's all over the place on his beautiful debut album, a depiction of a life as it stands today - the relics of miseries, manicured into the forms of survivor songs. Though Mansfield is only a 27-year-old man, he sounds as if he's already been dead a few times already. He sounds as if he's felt the ugliness of being unloved or uncared for more than any one hundred people combined should ever have to feel and somehow he's still here. With his music, you hear a man who has dealt with all of his shit and other people's shit, all of the indecency of having no one - even himself - love him, and you hear him sounding buoyed, as if he's aware that just being here now is about as miraculous as anything ever could be. We're definitely hearing a changed man, someone with the markings of a man who's been on a long, long ass wander trying to find who he really was supposed to be. Oh, sure, that's still a process that takes forever to conclude, but one has to start somewhere and Mansfield is getting there. He's done so many of those lost nights, the ones where nothing good comes of them, where nothing good comes from us. He likely went through a good long period of them that he didn't regret, but instead moved on to the next losing scenario within that regrettable night. Those "drunken Monday pints" were his best friends and they steered him with insensitive care, with destructive ambitions and malice.
Fences is Mansfield after the storm, with the pieces of his roof and the broken glass from his windows, all of the rubble and garbage from what just raged through him, still strewn all over the place. It's like a battlefield that's eerily quiet, but the gun smoke is still heavy in the air. The ground is littered with bullet casings, all evidence that nothing good happened here - but then again, we're reminded that now is different. Now is good, even with the garbage, human collateral and bullet casings staring back with evil, stony eyes for it's all been done, and we can try to believe that it's over for the time being and we can try to fix ourselves up. Mansfield is still horribly wounded, uncomfortably uncertain and unstable, but things are looking up. On new song, "Marketplace," an encounter that went from good to bad, still leaves him with enough good to offer him the salve that he might need to make it through to another day. Even the longing and the hurt, he's found, can be - strangely enough - salvation, when he sings, "It's you, it's you, it's only you/It's you, it's you, it's you/Pray to God the tides are low/You found my body on the shore/With pockets full of sand and stone/Cause I died from sailing alone." It's almost as if - EVENTUALLY - things will be alright, even if it's too late. Mansfield seems to think that it's never too late.