Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The Manhattan Love Suicides - Burnt out Landscapes - Review
The Manhattan Love Suicides have released an epic 27 song compilation that contains every significant song they've released so far - and then some. In addition to their amazing singles, there are a number of radio station performances that were recorded live and on the fly - as well as additional bonus previously unreleased tracks. What follows here is a complete track-by-track analysis of each song.
The collection opens with a new, previously unreleased “exclusive track” titled “Jonny Boy”, and it is a stomping good time. With guitars that sound like the spirit of Johnny Ramone is flowing through them, the initial progression and rhythm makes me think of that 50’s song “Bristol Stomp”. You know, the one that goes “all the kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol - when they do the Bristol stomp” Great, simple drumbeat with sweet tambourine on the snare shot. “Now I know he’s my fallen angel” lead vocalist Caroline sings. She goes on to tell the story of how “people stop and stare” but that she “doesn’t care” - and I have to state right here and right now that I love Caroline’s accent. Its Northern England, Leeds area - and its absolutely delightful to me. The time/tempo doubles on the chorus where Caroline sings that she “loves him so” and that he’s here “pride and joy” and is, in fact, her “Jonny Boy” - do, do. it’s a very cool homage to the classic Shang-ri-La’s style 50’s teen-love song. But - modernized and run through the Ramones filter. In other words - awesome.
“Clusterfuck” has to go down, by the way, as my all time fave song title. Because its an expression I use all the time. It just describes, far too often, the best laid plans of men. This song, however, is not. It is correct in every way. From Darren’s opening guitar strums (in classic Pete Townsend /Who “I can see for miles and miles” style) - through the thundering drums - and additional wall of harsh fuzzy guitars - as Caroline is boosted to perfection in her vocal mix - singing a song with lyrics as unabashedly cool as “I wanna know what you’re doing. I don’t care if its legal”. Add building to a throbbing bass guitar and drum heavy cresdendo. Its music for driving fast in your car - convertible of course - and top down, naturally. Blasting from the speakers - hells bells and balls out. Walls of guitars and sweet vocals that morph into multi-track goodness. The chorus is so hooky - and the guitars are so harsh. Three minutes and 12 seconds of pure bliss. Check out the video for this song here:
“Cracked Open” features the same full on feedback laden and distorted guitars, and percussion-wise a tambourine is featured high in the mix - but the vocals are much less processed and “clean” (as least on the verses). On the hooky bridge, Caroline’s voice is doubled and works well. This one nods to the great Jesus & Mary Chain for inspiration. I like the way Darren’s single guitar line echoes the vocal line in unison behind it.
“Sycamore Peripheral” has stripped down “early band” feel to it. The percussion is very minimal, pretty much tambourine only. Full wall of guitars, though. And Caroline’s clean, unaffected vocals. What remains a constant is the streamlined songwriting, and always a catchy, instantly recognizable vocal hook.
“Detroit Diesel” is full on aggression. Shards of distorted guitars clash against clattering drums and cymbals. The buried-deep and layered voices-on-intro reprises as the audio hook. There is a strong “wooo wooo” sound that envelops this “audio hook”. Reverberated joy at a quicker, more agitated pace.
“Keep It Coming” hold a special place for me, as it was the very first MLS song I had ever heard. And when I did hear it my mouth dropped open and I couldn’t believe my ears. It was such a beautiful, familiar sound. From the opening feedback and tambourine-on-reverb-snare-drum that compliments the downward slashing guitar chords, it was love at first listen. “Looking at the tv, it’s never gonna free me” Caroline sings with just the right amount of ambience surrounding her voice. The chorus is just so simple and powerful. Sure it nods to the Mary Chain’s “Some Candy Talking” - and they capture *that* emotion so well. The second verse finds Caroline’s voice multi-tracked just enough when she sings “he’s looking just as fine as he could be - you should have heard the things he said to me”. Its gorgeous chorus again and then a brilliant change which cleverly bypasses one influence and instead references Mr. Dylan’s “Tambourine Man” making it all their own as Caroline states, “I dunno, if I’ll leave it all behind, I’ll be back some other time, out of space and out of mind” - all the while Darren slashes brilliant chiming chords behind it all. A masterpiece. Check out the video for this song here:
This albums version of “You’ll Never Get That Guy” comes from the bands WOXY Radio Live Session tracks recorded in Austin, Texas in March of 2007, as part of showcase arranged by their label. All of the WOXY tracks were blasted out live at breakneck speed. A true testament to the bands live playing abilities. This particular track is solidly anchored by a thumping drum pattern. The guitars start in time with the vocals and they are a wall of buzzing bees. Enough to make both Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine proud. After Caroline sings “we’ve got nuthin’, but that’s okay” you can only make out every other line or so. Its buried into the mix at Belinda Butcher levels. “When you’ve got sunshine, we’ve got rain - you’ve got pleasure, and we’ve got pain - Its alllllriiiiiight”
“Extra Medication” was originally included as a bonus track on the vinyl version of their debut album, and is a Ramones-meets-The Primitives style pop ditty that features a simpler and cleaner recording approach. The vocals are up front with little FX on them. The guitars are still rude but with less fuel-injection. What is unmistakable is the catchy hook of the chorus, which states how “the temperatures getting higher” and “can no one release the pressure?”
“Head Over Heels” slows things back down a bit, with the classic Ronnettes-style drum pattern kicking it all off. Darren’s vibrant guitar strums down between two chords as Caroline begins a classic “leader of the pack” story about “a guy called Bobby” who is “kinda wild”. But he’s also got a “leather jacket, dirty boots and a million dollar smile”. Wait a minute - did Darren write this about himself!?! It hardly matters for when the full band kicks in, it is the perfect blend of reverbed-tambourine percussion, with Caroline’s vocals doubled to perfection. In classic homage to those wonderful girl-group songs from the early 1960’s, bad-boy Bobby would not listen to warnings of driving his car in the rain, which can only lead to “twisted metal and broken glass”. What follows sonically, however is something magical. These brilliant orchestral strings that give this band a lushness unheard of before.
“Kick It Back” opens immediately with the most infectious hook. Fully instrumental with noise textures laden throughout. When Caroline does start singing, its perfectly placed. The noise elements don’t really subside but the vocals never feel overpowered by them. Great “do, do, do, do’s” ride over top of the hooky reprise. The chord progression rises as the noise does too. Now we are on to some creative songwriting and studio usage. The song has an almost Scottish folk music feel - if it were then run through Sonic Youth’s washing machine. High points are risen to with one more guitar chord, as it ends on equal parts power chord and noisy squall.
“Autumn Fades In” strips it all back down and removes the feedback, as Darren’s guitar is clean and unaffected. Chiming between two chords in classic Velvet Underground “Heroin” style, the third chord is eventually arrived at. Caroline sings with a cathedral reverence over the stark background. On to the change and a Darren’s single guitar line drives behind it all. “And do you know where you’re going?” Caroline asks. Next pass through and you can feel the tension building. The sound textures chime in and the voices are now panned from left channel to right. The overall sound builds and builds as voices cascade to a near-religious experience.
“Orphans” points back to the bands early beginnings, as they covered Lydia Lunch & her Teenage Jesus and the Jerks classic punk opus. Here the band strips it all down to the most basic jungle-dweller pounding on a log beat (in this instance, a snare drum) while rude feedback drones above it. To add further “punk rock” insult-to-injury, Sonic Youth-style scratching of an additional guitars strings joins the jarring, discordant, dissonant, hellish cacophony. Caroline delivers the Lydia Lunch vocal cadence (which Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon has delved into at times) which simply takes it all over the top. The guitars are equally rude and oddly satisfying. I have discovered that this guitar sound was created by ramming a drumstick Thurston Moore style under the strings and playing the guitar with a 2nd drumstick.
Though “Never Far From You” also starts with feedback, the vocal stylings are far more melodic. Again looking to the “Psychocandy-era” for spiritual guidance, this track has all the power and style of “The Living End” (especially rhythmically) all the while taking it in a new direction by way of Caroline’s vocals and unique melody-line. Of note is Adam’s sturdy, pulsing bass-line. This is even more noticeable when hearing this song live. The band has put out a solid video to go along with this song. You can view it here:
Back to the WOXY sessions for “Suzy Jones” and the thundering tom-tom drums opening is only matched by Darren’s slashing power guitar chords. Caroline sings in seductive baby-doll voice on the verses, and more forceful on the chorus. Its amazing how good these live-in-a-studio tracks sound. It really shows you how tight and how good of a live band this is. Ear-pleasing “do, do, do, do do, do’s” ride over the top of ferocious guitars and full-throttle drumming.
“Way Out of Reach” blends a touch of organ behind Darren’s signature feedback opening as Caroline begins to sing in that intoxicating Tracy Tracy of The Primitives “Crash” voice. Which underscores the unmistakable appeal of The Manhattan Love Suicides. Sonic reference points all lead to the best things that have come out of the 80’s and 90’s music - all the while forging their own way in these, the latter stages of the 2000’s.
I have had the good fortune of experiencing “Heat and Panic” in its rightful place during one of their live shows - as the closer. To say the place goes crazy during it is an understatement. This one also relies heavily on a very strong bass guitar propulsion. Caroline tells the tale of “the same old story” of how a “girl meets a boy that she pledges to adore” where they “spend time laughing and holding hands, swapping records of their favorite bands.” Besides this great girl-boy-fall-in-love-and-have-fun story, what’s truly brilliant are the sonic bursts of guitar squalls that punctuate each pass through the progression. The song just goes out in a guitar noise orgy and the band dutifully throbs on and never loses the beat. As good as this studio version is (and it is good) - live the the best way to experience this one.
“Last Stand” is based around a descending chord progression that employs chiming guitars and straightforward drums. Carolines vocals are sufficiently murky, pointing more towards the rarely-intelligible Liz Frazer of the Cocteau Twins, than Belinda of My Bloody Valentine. There is a wonderful strain of feedback guitar underneath before the true wall of guitars buzz saw begins. Float over top all of that a William Reid-esque melodic guitar hook and the chills begin. The bass throbs as reverebed vocals submerge any semblance of “lyrics”. Its all emotions and vibes. Short, sweet and wonderful. Not a note wasted or out of place.
“(The Guy On The) 14th Floor” brings us back to the WOXY sessions and is a feedback introed, thumping drums, twangy guitar encrusted rave-up that would not be out of place on one of The Cramps albums. “Take a trip with the guy on the 14th floor” sings Caroline. That dude must be cool. Speaking of cool, the central instrumental breakdown has Darren scratching rudely over top of booming, echoy drums. Sweet.
“Burning Wire” flips the coin and now leads with an ascending bass line and “clean” tom tom and snare drum. However, as the vocals start, so too does the shards of guitar assault. It is then a quick kick up to double-time on the snare drum providing further forward motion. All who love My Bloody Valentine will certainly love this one as well. The second pass through the verses finds Caroline providing secondary response lines to her lead vocal lines. Quite a lot packed into an under (yes, under) 2 minute song.
“Dazzle The Blind” reverses the polarity yet again as a descending Simon Gallup-of-the-Cure-like bassline presides over two repeated snare-drum shots marking out an alternate pattern. It all chances as the verses start and in tandem with Caroline’s more reedily-processed vocals comes a bright and angular guitar lick over top, as an energetic tambourine fills out the higher end sonic frequencies. A very hooky, vocal passage follows all that, owing more to 60’s era girl-group than anything else.
“You’ll Never Get That Guy” is one of the truly great songs this band does. Coming at a somewhat slower, slinkier pace, the lyrics are easily understandable, as Caroline’s vocals are really featured here. “When I’ve got sunshine, you’ve got rain - I’ve got pleasure, and you’ve got pain” but “that’s allll riiiiiight” is how the early part of the story goes. But there is tragedy lurking as the hook is arrived at with the discovery that “no matter what you do, and no matter what you say, and no matter how hard you try, you’ll never get that guy.” “This is how it feels to have a heart attack” Caroline continues. “And you’ve got nothing, but that’s ok - nothing could be something if you give it away” is the brilliant twist on a familiar word combination.
“Thinking is Killing Me” is one of those songs I instantly connected with. Bathed in a glorious droning wall-of-sound that is at the same time separated by the spaciousness of tambourine-on-snare percussion - and more significantly driven by an incredibly hooky guitar line over top of it all. Caroline’s vocals are smooth and cathedral-like. The way Simon used to get Garfunkel’s. A choir of chill enducing goodness. What Brian Eno heard as a child when his parents put The Ray Conniff singers on. What he called the “lush, soft, silky quality”. She takes it to an even higher tone and texture on the subsequent verses. Yes, there are echos of the Mary Chain’s “Happy When It Rains” (and thank you for that) - couple that with Kevin Shields Bloody Valentine twisted wall of sound and Caroline’s blissfull “doo, doo, doo’s” and you have a near perfect song.
“Things You Never Done” dip into the WOXY sessions once more, and again I marvel at how well these “live” tracks sound. This song is a full on Ramones-eque thrasher -- yet so cleanly recorded. With Caroline’s voice clear, concise and distinct. Just a hint of reverb on , this one shows just how well Caroline can get all of those (densely packed) lyrics out. There’s barely any space for her to take a breath (or even worse, the standard sip on her beverage between bursts of singing, that is her live show trademark) “Whoah, whoah,” indeed.
“Wolves” intros with the time-honored traditional Ronnie Spector beat, coupled with Velvet Underdground-meets-JAMC-clock-on-the-wall guitar chords, as a breathy voiced Caroline sings up close in the mix about how “summer settled in, feel it warming up my bones - and I remembered my dreams for the first time since the wolves left us alone” sung in a cadence that is reminiscent of Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush”. The next few lines are similarly placed, in a stark and spacious soundscape. That is until the buzz saws begin and the tempo quickens. Multi-layers of guitars drive it all forward, as fuzzy distorted instruments are panned wide in the mix. Then its back to the ‘heroin-esque’ quiet plateu - until the buzzing bees return coupled with a dominant rhythm guitar driving it all along. A most unique song!
“Sitting Target” is a feedback and tambourine tour-de-force that brings to my mind the best of “Love & Rockets” (circa “Earth, Sun, Moon”). Caroline delivers the lyrics in a semi-sneer and taunting sing-songy way. “There’s nothing you can do that will satisfy me” she sings. The feedback is all sonic texture underneath and never actually stops throughout. I’m impressed by the way feedback can be used as an actual changing melody.
“Finding The End Of the Line” is actually a collaboration with another artist - Random Number. It is like nothing else they have done. Completely electronic, the music is devoid of any “traditional” instruments. No guitars, basses or drums - well, maybe there is a guitar in there, but its not played in any way the band has done prior to this. The basic structure or essence of this piece is what some would call “techno” or “house” music. Since I’ve also been into the true electronic pioneers like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno for years - and then their pop evolutionary offspring like Depeche Mode or their harsher counterparts like Nine Inch Nails or even Ministry - its no great leap for me to “get” this music. Think David Bowie’s evolution from first “Ziggy/Alladin” - then “Station To Station” - then to “Low”.
“Life in Vain” closes out the collection with the band covering a Daniel Johnston song - but (as always) with that classic MLS sound - driving bass guitar - chiming downward driving guitar chords - tambourine-on-snaredrum - rude feedback shooting throughout - Caroline’s doubled, slightly reverebed vocals - hooky guitar line on top of it all - murky tom toms in the mix (whether real or implied - I hear them buried in the over and under tones) “where are we going to?” asks Caroline.
Quite simply put, this is an amazing collection of songs. For anyone who loves Sonic Youth, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Ramones, My Bloody Valentine and The Primitives (like I do) -you owe to yourself to get this record. You will not be disappointed.
Find out all about the band here:
You can order the record here:
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