Chasing up a debut LP under his own name (Pan, released a few short months ago), Jonas Munk has returned to his primary alias once again as Manual with a new “mini-LP”; Awash.
This was an enormous surprise to me; RYM hadnt alerted me to its impending drop since nobody had made a page for it and it was only by chance that I stumbled across it on Spotify; lucky really, otherwise I would have been blissfully unaware of this little number’s existence until it was too late.
The past couple of albums under Manual’s belt have been evolutions of his original style, keeping true to the same downtempo, electroacoustic sound but have fundamentally been rich, warm, ambient albums to the core, so it was a bit of a relief to see him return to the Dream Pop side of things on this release, even if the sound does feel a little cliché and not quite like the Manual we’re familiar with. I think the album art was actually the biggest hint; even before getting stuck into the music we are treated with a rather stereotypical, Instagram-esque shot of the shoreline with a distinctly faux-vintage feel. Why is this relevant to the music you might ask? Well because that’s kind of how this mini-LP sounds, kind of old and overused, pretending to be something hazy and indistinct but with a characteristic modern sheen.
Sure, the brilliant “Glide” has all the classic Manual traits with its sparse percussion and tambourines and glowing synth drones but there is something about it that just feels off kilter. Maybe it’s the drum track or the weird staccato electronic beats at the start, I’m not sure, but it definitely isn’t reminiscent of the analogue bliss-outs I’m accustomed to. And it continues throughout, this feeling of not-quite-rightness; “Floating World” has lots of really deeply buried synths whirls and elongated drones that glimmer just beneath the surface of really generic IDM beats, spoiling what would be otherwise excellent ambiance.
Then the sound pretty much just plateaus and doesn’t develop anywhere at all for a while. “Water and Light” passes by in a quick and unobtrusive haze while “Saudade” kicks in and gets going a bit more, finally introducing some guitar work into the mix after a protracted introduction, balanced by a plethora of light glitch textures and rich electronica to slip us straight into the fragile ambient of “Shrine” to close the album, oscillating delicately on a bed of comfy synth but ultimately still slipping by such that if you weren’t careful you’d blink and miss it. Unobtrusive, but not necessarily in a good way.
Given that this is only a “mini-LP”, as it is being dubbed, and that it is being released semi-alongside a reissue of an old EP from about 9 years ago Isares, I’m kind of hoping that this is just the lead up to a bigger, more fleshed out full length in the near future. Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh on this little release but I have unfortunately come to expect a particular kind of sound from Manual and I get disappointed if it doesn’t quite meet my expectation.