It was a balmy August night in Chicago in a cramped apartment with no air conditioning when I first heard the sincerity of Christopher Mansfield’s voice trickle through some cheap computer speakers. I just returned to Chicago for school and was trying to relish the last hot days of summer with a new friend who put on the tunes to accompany the cold beers and distract from the overwhelming humidity. Surprisingly, living in a major city can prove to be dreadfully lonely, and sometimes solace can be found in strangers who feel the same. Between small talk about where we’re from and tattoos, a song came on that so perfectly suited the moment that it is impossible to write about without sounding trite. The soft acoustics paired with sweet sorrowful vocals were oddly the faultless soundtrack for a night of getting to know someone knew.
Seattleite Christopher Mansfield, who’s musical alias is Fences, was discovered through MySpace–you remember MySpace, right?–by Sara Quin of Canadian indie pop duo Tegan & Sara who eventually produced, recorded and added vocals to Fences’ debut album in 2010. Since then he’s had a few collaborations with Macklemore (yes, the ‘Thrift Shop’ dude) and Ryan Lewis. One of which, a remix of Macklemore’s from the same year, was worthy of far more consideration titled “Otherside” tackling the issues of addiction–something Fences has been open about dealing with.
It’s been four long years, but Fences has been working tirelessly on Lesser Oceans, the follow-up to his self-titled debut which is set to come out in January–including a limited edition salmon-colored vinyl. For those such as myself who are forever impatient, several tracks are available for pre-order to tide us over until then. My favorite thus far is an upbeat, yet remorseful track called “The Lake,” “It’s too late/ Now I’m only wishing I loved you better at the lake/Now we’re both alone/ It’s too late.” Although his discography isn’t extensive, Fences has perfected the art of combining rose-colored acoustics and poppy beats with somber lyrics to create songs that pull the heartstrings in different directions.
“Arrows,” the debut single off the album is another fruitful collaboration with power duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis that garnered Fences long-deserved attention and has since taken him to big stages with the rapper. The video is a cute, Wes Anderson-esque mini featuring the rapper in a cage talking the perils of fame, “When the world finally sees his art he wishes that he never made it,” but leaves you wanting to hear more of Fences and his thoughts on grappling with notoriety. Full disclosure: I have been an active follower of Fences’ twitter account for quite some time, and in the past he’s been very candid and open about his struggles. Perhaps it’s the busy tour schedule or an urge to keep more parts of his life private, but nowadays his tweets are few and far between.
Although the sweet, summer haze has come and gone again, I still find myself attracted to those nostalgic songs I heard in that stuffy apartment in Lakeview years ago and revisit them every season when loneliness strikes. Although I don’t keep in touch with that friend often anymore, I like to think that Fences’ music is a sort of anthem of a Lonely Hearts Club for those in a city that sometimes feels a little too big.
If you were smart and purchased your tickets in advance, enjoy the SOLD OUT show Saturday night at 3rd and Lindsley alongside Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.
– Kimberly K.