've been known to rip on willfully simple or child like melodic IDM acts. I've been known to not been moved by their naïve and innocent ideal of a synth melody that evokes memories of childhood. Ever since Boards of Canada came into my consciousness, however, I've always been open to acts that were able to tap into that same sort of sound while remaining rhythmically innovative without sacrificing the beauty of a melody. Instead of finding groups that can replicate this aesthetic, though, I've been hearing knock offs of portions of their style. You can find the voice used as a ryhtmic entity in Prefuse 73's debut record and you can find the simple melodies in groups such as ISAN or Freescha. But you'd be hard pressed to find a group that uses both of these elements together and adds a touch of something new to the mix. And then there is Manual.
Sure, when I picked up the release I figured that there would be sugary sweet melodies and maybe a canned beat in the background to add stability. What else have we come to expect from Morr Music? It's been my friend's postulate for the past few months that Morr Music is actuall composed of one person who creates a few slightly different sounding groups of 10-12 songs and releases them as albums every so often. It's nice to have a signature sound for a label, sure, but it's quite another to have all of your releases sound alike, no matter which the artist. That's one of the major failings of IDM labels these days, in my opinion. When you hear three tracks from artists on the label you can pretty much tell which label it is. Such homogeny is good, in a certain sense, but it allows you to be hemmed in quite easily and may influence your later releases. The point, however, is that while Manual taps into the general Morr Music aesthetic, he also breaks out of it in certain key instances, providing an interesting forward sounding release.
But this isn't a forward sounding release in term of innovation. It is forward sounding in the combination of acoustic instruments, most notably guitar and piano, integrated seamlessly with typical IDM breakbeats. In lesser hands, this might appear a mess or sound incongruous with the acoustic and electronic sharing center stage at the same time, but Manual weaves these elements together to form an affecting group of songs for this album.
On the first song, static crackles of sound slowly form into rhythm as a bed of synths provide a four note bassline until the rhythm can find its footing. From that point on elements are added until the song has become a complex amalgam of sounds and textures, all driven in the middle of the mix by a stunning guitar melody playing in between the melodies that Freescha rely on for their entire songs. Instead of relying on only one set of sounds for his pastiche of songs, Manual intertwines different sounds and textures, an infinitely more complex and more compelling result follows. Each song flows into one another or, at the very least, sounds as though it is the logical follow up to the music that has come before it. There are no real songs here that hit hard and act as a complete album within themselves, but each song seems to be composed directly for that place in the album, an integral piece of the puzzle. The album ends with a synthesized orchestra playing underneath a group of ascending notes, flowing upwards, ever upwards; leaving you wanting more than the mere 46 minutes that Manual has provided.
This is a solid debut LP for the Morr Music label by Manual. A mix of acoustic and electronic into a product of beauty is the only way to describe it. If you enjoy other Morr Music releases you will definitely not want to miss out on this one. I'm only sorry that it didn't get heard before I made my top of 2001 list.