The Manichean, LOVERS

The Manichean, <i>LOVERS</i>

Alright, wow. That’s pretty much what flew through my head the first time through The Manichean’s long-awaited full-length LOVERS, and after further listens, it’s still what rattles around in my brain. Sure, I’ve liked the band’s previous releases (EPs Whispers and Lacerus Rising and eight-song “EP” Sakura) quite a bit, but LOVERS feels like The Manichean’s stepped upwards to a completely different level. I’ve bitched and moaned about finally getting to hear this, and the band’s finally delivered. And yeah, it’s amazing.

By all rights, this shouldn’t work, at least not for me — it should be overweeningly pretentious and too damn arty for its own good. And yet, it’s not. Instead, LOVERS ends up gorgeous and otherworldly-sounding, a thoughtful, intense (but not over-the-top, really, all things considered), lushly layered, swooningly romantic assemblage of sounds. These feel less like songs and more like movements, all parts of the same overarching whole; distinct, but tied together tightly.

Even calling this a “concept album” seems like a disservice, since a lot of that type of album only seems to hang together by the barest of threads. Here, though, there’s a full-on narrative linking each and every song; I won’t claim to be able to parse what the hell it is or what it all means, but it’s definitely there. I’m pretty sure it’s a love story, at its core, and not just because of the album’s title but because of vocalist/co-songwriter Cory Sinclair’s spoken-word/poetry interludes throughout the songs. It’s a story about love and some kind of loss, and hope in spite of it…anything beyond that and I’m really guessing.

Beyond the lyrics, the overall sound of the songs themselves flows organically from one to the next, incorporating lots of up-close, bare-bones (yet still beautifully warm and welcoming) acoustic guitar from guitarist/co-songwriter Justice Tirapelli-Jamail, subtle, melancholy strings and keys, and tight, unhurried rhythms. There’s a lot that reminds me of Jeremy Enigk’s first solo album, Return of the Frog Queen, particularly “Yukimi’s Granddaughter” — both Enigk’s work and The Manichean’s use that troubadour-like guitar tone and multi-layered, almost baroque arrangements, not to mention an overall “mythic” feel to it all.

Of course, the downside to having one coherent sound throughout LOVERS is that sometimes it makes it hard to tell where one song/movement starts and the next ends — there were several transitions where I had to check the player to see which song I was listening to. It’s all dramatic and beautiful, and it all rolls on like a river, pulling you onward to the end.

There are some tracks that stand out, like opener “Amethyst,” which starts off with the sound of wind and water, a desolate coastline somewhere, and swiftly shifts into mournful, elegaic strings, followed by a funereal organ, and then by energetic, stomping orchestral/gypsy rock sounds, building and building until the whole thing’s humming. Or the more straightforwardly “rock” track “Fits Of Chemistry,” which starts off like musical theater, with Sinclair and a female vocalist performing what is essentially poetry, pondering the meaning of it all. As Sinclair declares, “This means something / This rings of something.” “Orchid I” is nicely jangly and hazy, with an oddly ’90s-tinged feel to it; this one sees Sinclair switching back and forth between the spoken parts and actual singing, and it’s a nice changeup.

“Innocence” does a bit of a bait-and-switch, starting off fragile and spacey but quickly shifting gears into proggy, sharp-edged indie-rock, complete with saxophone(!). Then there’s “Limerence,” where the band uses the guitars almost as percussion, underpinning a great, great duet between Sinclair and a female singer whom I think is Asli Omar of The Tontons. A few tracks further on, “Leopards” comes in as a somber coda, almost, despite not being at the absolute end of the album; it’s mournful and hopeful at the same time, and it paves the way nicely for cinematic-sounding instrumental “Melatonin,” which features some awesomely huge drums courtesy of drummer Dylan Tirapelli-Jamail.

By the way, how did I never really notice The Manichean’s dream-pop underpinnings ’til now? I mean, I definitely got the New Romantic-influenced stuff, for sure, and the Talking Heads-like penchant for drama, but if “Laughter…Sigh,” in particular, had popped up on an album by Curve or The Sundays a decade or two ago, you wouldn’t have batted an eye. It’s shimmery like the best My Bloody Valentine tracks, and with a half-buried female vocal that reminds me of the same. To make things even weirder, I’ve heard an earlier version of this song, on Sakura, and even then the dreampop thing didn’t hit me like it does now.

One of the absolute highlights for me is the rainy, dramatic “The Gosling,” one of the longest songs on here at 8:06, primarily because it marks the first time Sinclair really gets to cut loose, vocally speaking, swooping upwards in a masterful, crystalline falsetto. I mean, yes, he’s sung before, on literally every release the band’s done up to now, but this time it really sounds like he ditched caution and just went for it, and the result is incredible. There’re points here where he sounds surprisingly like Coheed & Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez, and that’s not a comparison I’d make lightly.

Sinclair does similarly well, towards the end of the aforementioned “Innocence” — that ending roar/howl is fucking epic — and then again on closer “The Sparrow,” a monumental track that soars and collapses in a shuddering, shattering explosion of art-rock glory. The band as a whole throws caution aside on that one, and the result practically sets the speakers on fire, despite the track clocking in at nearly 10 minutes long.

As I said above, I’ve griped before that LOVERS has been so damn long in coming, but I’m shutting up now. This? This is what I was waiting (and hoping) for, and it’s worth every second.

[The Manichean is playing its album release show 11/24/12 at Warehouse Live, along with Bang Bangz, Mobley, Alkari, Night Drive, & Portal Walker.]
(self-released; The Manichean --; The Manichean (Facebook) --; The Manichean (Bandcamp) --; The Manichean (SoundCloud) --
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Review by . Review posted Saturday, November 24th, 2012. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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2 Responses to “The Manichean, LOVERS

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 2: Jonathan Coulton + The Manichean + My Education (Rev’d!) + Two Star Symphony + East End Toy Drive + More on December 1st, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    […] Heights Vinyl (4PM) I’ve been listening to The Manichean‘s newly-released full-length, LOVERS, a whole heck of a lot lately; after a long, long wait, it pretty much fulfilled all my hopes for […]

  2. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. (Late) Weekend, Pt. 1: The Manichean + Omotai + Co-Pilot + B.E. Godfrey + Sarah Hirsch + DJ William Michael Smith + The Snow Indian + More on June 14th, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    […] glad to see the band come out of its quasi-hiatus since the release of last year’s stellar LOVERS. The ultra-dramatic band of orchestral-indie-rockers have been away from the stage for too damn […]

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