Henry Mansfield And The Struggle to Not Struggle

Henry Mansfield
Henry Mansfield

Listening to Henry Mansfield’s new double single “Jury Duty + Young/Lovely” made me think of the 1990’s. But not for the reasons you might think. Sure, he’s from Seattle. The city was basically the musical mecca of the Grunge era. And he is a piano-playing singer who writes upbeat and witty post-modern Jazz-tinged Alt-Pop. The artists who specialize in that particular sub-genre of music belong to a very exclusive club of which Henry and 90’s superstar Ben Folds are the only members.

However, those are not the reasons Mansfield’s music brought the decade of my 20’s to mind. His bio says he was, “born and raised in a post-grunge Seattle.” That really says it all. Henry’s music made me think of the 90’s specifically because it could not possibly have come from those years. “Jury Duty” + “Young/Lovely” are two songs steeped in the now. These are very different times than the era of Kurt Cobain and Bill Clinton. To be young in 2020 is a lot more complicated.

Back then, we wore apathy like a badge of honor. The world was a mess, so we just stepped back and pretended not to care. We viewed doing so as an intellectual statement. By not giving a shit, we felt we were somehow smarter than those who did. But intellectual detachment wouldn’t be possible today. Young people in 2020 are involved whether they like or not.

You can’t quarantine yourself away from reality if reality is quarantine. And you can’t make a statement of disengagement when every choice you make is viewed by the world as engagement. Everything from your snack food of choice to your favorite shirt is viewed by our polarized world as an alignment with one side or another. We are opposed to someone else simply by virtue of existing. It can get a bit stressful. As Mansfield sings, it is the “age of anxiety.”

Henry describes his two new songs as, “an emotional battle cry from the confused young people in our modern world.” Together they feel like two movements of the same piece. Or maybe, two songs from the same Broadway show. His compositions are complex and sophisticated, miles beyond the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge of a typical Pop song. The songs are arranged more like Jazz or new classical. The layered harmonies of a horn section mesh with bold power chords as Henry directs the ensemble from his piano bench.

Lyrically, Henry Mansfield’s writing is theatrical and visual. He paints a picture of young adult ennui with images of youthful fears. Like in “Jury Duty” when he sings, “Let’s list the reasons why we’re too afraid to sleep in the dark.” And on “Young/Lovely” scenes from childhood overlap with the confusion of adulthood as monsters under the bed are supplanted by the fear of a full night sleep. Henry sings, “darling could you call in sick tomorrow, because this joke might take all night”.

Ultimately though these songs are about salvation through communion. In the end, we are all in it together. Or as Henry sings in “Jury Duty,” “Hold my hands and say it with me, I am not my insecurity… I promise, this is not the end of us.”

“Jury Duty” + “Young/Lovely” will be available everywhere on June 5th. Preview them here and follow the links below to connect with Henry Mansfield.

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Henry Mansfield