lowdive helped deal shoegaze two death blows. Souvlaki was arguably the last of the originators great records within the genre, combining incomparable songcraft with the then-nearly clichéd archetypal delayed guitars that typified the sound. And two years later came Pygmalion, a record that bridged the gap between shoegaze and ambient and helped to hasten their firing from Creation by an unhappy Alan McGee.
The career trajectory of Manual, Jonas Munk, has eerily followed much the same path as his sonic forebearers. Their heavy influence (he covered the title track for Morr Music’s Blue Skied An’ Clear) on his sound is an undeniable fact, of course, but matching each LP in their catalog also reveals similarities. The formative albums each shows artists struggling to break free of the bonds set upon them (the heavy hand of My Bloody Valentine in Slowdive’s case and the strictures of the glitch in Munk’s), while their second album is regarded as a near-masterpiece (Souvlaki and Ascend, respectively).
And much like Pygmalion, Manual’s newest record, Azure Vista, sees the artist growing upwards and outwards. Gone is the three-minute pop masterpiece that typified Ascend. Instead, we’re met with six songs and only one under seven-minutes. This is an album with epic stamped all over it.
But let’s be clear: the sound is very much the same as on previous efforts. There should be no surprised listeners for anyone familiar with Manual’s work in the past, which could most easily be described as a more organic sounding Ulrich Schnauss. Guitars are layered upon one another, drums are cavernous and deep sounding time-keepers that only appear at track’s height, and vocals only make their way in as inspiring atmosphere.
There are some key differences, however. “Neon Reverie,” for example is Munk’s most brutal solo work yet, stopping mid-way through to allow for a hard-edged guitar riff to cut through the gloss and send the song into an enormous coda of swirling guitars. Conversely, the concluding title track sees Munk stretching out and languishing in drones, playing melodies quietly, teasing the listener to discern an identifiable structure through the haze.
And that, “Neon Reverie” aside, is this record’s MO more than anything else: an sumptuous sonic teasing—letting the listener in, only to turn the song away from its easier path. Luckily, in most cases, he turns to the unexpected, but more interesting and beautiful path.
It’s uncanny. With each successive record, Jonas Munk has echoed his heroes’ trajectory. Which, of course, begs the question: what next? With Azure Vista behind him, the sonic possibilities are truly endless. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.