The Manichean, Whispers

The Manichean, The Manichean

Music or theater? That’s the conundrum that hits me most frequently when listening to The Manichean’s debut EP, Whispers: is this a band, or a theater troupe? Going by the EP itself, the answer may be “both.” It may be comprised of actual songs, but Whispers strikes me as being far closer to an old-time radio play than an “album,” even of the concept album variety; I can’t help but think of old broadcasts of The Shadow, in particular, with Orson Welles and company evoking mysterious dread and wonder. There’s a strong theatrical sensibility running through these songs, something that pulls the band over into Decemberists territory and blurs the lines between musicians and actors.

Unlike with the Decemberists, however, that line-blurring never makes me cringe and think of frustrated Drama Club geekery; The Manichean also possess the musical chops (and just as critical, the restraint) to be able to craft some truly mindblowing songs. Right from the start of intro track “TheManichean,” with the crackling, booming thunder that quickly shifts into speeding, near-frantic, darkly alluring rock, the atmosphere is uniformly sinister and mysterious, and that feel continues through the rest of the EP. “The Unfortunate Circumstances Surrounding Zoe” is murky and dramatic, and while singer Cory Sinclair’s muttered ramblings before the song proper would probably irk me in another setting, here they work surprisingly well. While it’s definitely a rock band at heart, I love the way The Manichean incorporates strings and horns, layering them delicately in all the right places instead of shoving ’em right in your face.

The best track here is also the one that’s probably closest to a true “song” — third track “Lacerus” is utterly mesmerizing, a desperate-sounding tale of death and temptation (I think?) spun out over a tense, fast-paced, almost ska-like indie-rock groove, and it’s freaking perfect. The horns sound appropriately mournful, co-bandleader Justice Tirapelli-Jamail (who’s the “music” part of the question I posed at the start of this, by the by) cuts loose awesomely, with nicely edgy guitars roaring along next to the driving, locomotive-like drums. And over it all, Sinclair alternately croons and howls, coming off like Placebo’s Brian Molko minus the sci-fi vibe.

The final track, “The Baptism (of Water, of Desire, and of Blood),” though, is actually a bit of a sneak. Not only is it 12 minutes long, but it makes huge dynamic shifts midway through — the song starts off in an extremely cinematic vein, with rain sounds and slowly-building layers of jangly guitar and strings beneath the enigmatic lyrics, but at about the 5:20 mark, the tempo drops, and a slow, deliberately-picked guitar steps in, changing the mood completely. It pulls the same trick again around 8:30, when the guitars start to jangle and ring out once again, seemingly fueled by the bitterness in the vocals and lyrics, and finally softens into a quiet coda of strings and spoken words (some in a language I don’t recognize; Portuguese, maybe?) before the curtain falls.

Despite the three-tracks-in-one thing, however, it remains utterly compelling throughout, pulling you along as bits and pieces of the story are revealed. And there is an underlying story, apparently, although the band doesn’t give up much in the way of a concrete plot. From what I’ve gathered, this EP is just a first step along the road — I’m eager as hell to see where these folks head from here.

[The Manichean is playing its video release 7/23/10 at the Avant Garden.]
(self-released; The Manichean -- http://themanichean.com/)
BUY ME: CDBaby

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, June 16th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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4 Responses to “The Manichean, Whispers

  1. Cory Sinclair on June 16th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Jeremy, we have nothing but praise for what you do. I have checked SCR every day since I discovered it a few years back. Thank you for your work and for this review – it’s impeccable. You completely understand the atmosphere and intent, which is our primary focus before recording anything. And yes, that is Portuguese, you’re the first to notice.

    My only possible dispute with your review is that the EP is in fact not self-titled, but called ‘Whispers’ – it is the eponymous first part of the ‘Whispers Saga’, which will include the next three albums we release. A tetralogy, as it were.

    That being said, we are elated to share the next part of the story, which shall be recorded in late August and released around Christmas(ish).

    Thanks you again Jeremy,
    ~Cory Sinclair (TheManichean)

  2. Jeremy Hart on June 17th, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Whoops! Sorry about that — dumb, dumb, dumb. I *knew* the EP had a name, and yet, when I was writing the review, I just blanked. Sorry about that!

  3. creg on June 17th, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    these guys really are special. i cant wait to see them again.

  4. Jason Smith on June 18th, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    As a self-proclaimed connisseur of the Houston Rock scene, I was bowled over when I found out about these guys in the summer of 2009. I’m not sure how long they’d been around before that, but they mesmerized me at my first show seeing them at The Meridian. I was drunk though so I thought maybe it was just the alcohol talking and vowed to see them again to make sure. The next time I was not drunk, but they were still fun and “edge of your seat” like Jeremy said. Then I saw them at a “Drag Prom” show. They were crazy fun! Soon after that they gave me an advance copy of “Whispers” and I have been a big fan ever since. They are definitely a “love them or hate them” kind of band. I’ve met people in both camps. I don’t think The Manichean cares either way if you love or hate them as long as you have some kind of feeling toward them! That’s what makes them sincere despite their melodrama. It’s a tough line to walk without crossing into farce, but they do it.

    By the way, I agree, “Lacerus” is their most exciting and beautiful song. They tend to build up to that one in their set and I wait and wait for it and then BAM there it is.
    Jason

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