Review: Manual – Isares/Awash

It’s a sign of our fast moving times that once cutting edge electronica albums are now being reissued to capture the ears of those young pups who missed them first time around. Hoping to avoid descriptions like “quaint” and “vintage”, this year saw the revival of Four Tet’s ‘Rounds’ and now the somewhat less famous but arguably no less important Manual (aka Danish multi-instrumentalist Jonas Munk) has seen fit to reissue a 2003 mini LP alongside a new release. This offers an  immediate opportunity to compare and contrast the old and the new of Munk’s output.

'Awash' Album Cover

‘Isares’ is a reissue of a 2003 album. It features clean, synth lines and opulent arrangements. Fittingly ‘A Familiar Place’ makes positive noises of warmth and reassurance; its serene wash of a melody evoking comforting images of wide, open skies augmented by stuttering beats. The use of vocal effects on this and the similarly-presented ‘Wake’ and ‘Horizon’ seem to pre-date/compliment the sugar rush style of M83. ‘Stealing Through’ is a much more sedate affair. Sure, it strives to be widescreen and epic but its acoustic guitar refrain is refreshingly uncomplicated. In the intervening ten years, ‘Isares’ still sounds quite fresh but much like M83, it all sounds a little superficial and hollow too.

‘Awash’, from late 2012, is a much better performance. Ironically it claims to be inspired by early Air (amongst other acts) but it seems to be much more forward thinking. Like ‘Isares’, it doesn’t disappoint with the requisite grand titles (‘Water And Light’, Floating World’) and strives to provide soundtracks worthy of them but the music is much more complex in its execution. The title track creates the first positive sign of life beyond nature documentaries. Initially, sonambulant beats merge with twin layers of synth melody and two minutes in, the beats pick up the pace and there’s a noticeable rhythmic surge. ‘Glide’ and ‘Shrine’ operate in the same otherworldly sphere as Boards Of Canada whilst ‘Saudade’ morphs into a dreamy Cocteau Twins-esque hook halfway through. These tracks may conjure up images of underwater worlds but these are underwater worlds full of mystery and intrigue. Therefore, the detailed, multi-layered approach of ‘Awash’ should ensure it sounds just as good ten years on.

Web Sites:
Darla Label and Shop Site
Manual Bandcamp Page for ‘Isares’
Manual Bandcamp Page for ‘Awash’

Further Listening:
Boards Of Canada, M83, Good Weather For An Airstrike

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