Space City Rock reviews ‘Sakura’
The Manichean, Sakura
Justice Tirapelli-Jamail and Cory Sinclair of The Manichean don’t ever, ever do things halfway, apparently. At least, that’s the feeling I get after drifting my way through the band’s latest release, Sakura. It was originally intended to be a quick little tide-you-over EP, just a couple of songs meant to whet their fans’ appetite before the band (finally) releases their first real full-length — except that once the two got started, they just kind of kept rolling and rolling, until they had eight new, fully-realized songs on their hands. So much for the “quick little” part…
What they’ve come up with is a delicate, dark, murky-as-night suite of songs that come off like close kinfolk to the quieter tracks off the band’s debut EP, Whispers, treading a line between Radiohead-esque art-rock and Decemberists-like theater-pop while never fully pigeonholing themselves as a knockoff of either. Sinclair is relatively restrained here, keeping his vocals more low-key than they generally are live (and mostly were on Whispers), instead leaning close to the mic to practically breathe the words directly into it. Cohort Tirapelli-Jamail’s gorgeously delicate guitar work’s then able to shift to the forefront somewhat, which is a cool thing to hear — watching the band live, I’ve occasionally felt a little bad for the guy, considering that everybody in the audience is generally paying attention to Sinclair as he roams about the stage, so it’s good to see him step forward a bit.
The album begins with “The Calm,” which isn’t a song, really, but rather a digital-sound recreation of what an oncoming storm might sound like, with colossal, rumbling “clouds” of staticky thunder rolling in off the turbulent sea; it’s interesting, but it’s not much besides an intro. Things move forward as soon as “The Kamenicean” hits, however — the track is murky and mysterious, with Sinclair’s delicate, deliberate words floating serenely out over desperately-strummed acoustic guitar and heavy layers of synth-y sound. “Icarus” is more drifting and melancholy, with the primary focus on a swooning organ sound that makes me think of early M83, at least ’til the vocals step smoothly in two-thirds of the way through, at which point the song becomes almost shoegazer Beat poetry (and I mean that as a compliment, I swear).
Too-brief interlude “Laughter (Sigh)” is gentle and languid, with awesomely driving, fast-strummed guitars that bring to mind an acousticized My Bloody Valentine more than anything else and ground the sweet, airy sound so it can be propelled forward. Title track “Sakura” and follower “Isis” are nearly sisters, both somber and sweet with more minimal instrumentation; on the former, the piano and fingerpicked guitar blends beautifully beneath Sinclair’s whispery vocals, and the latter’s even quieter, if anything, just the vocals and a single, slow-moving, deliberate guitar making its way along. “Frailty” serves as another interlude, this time just whirring/clicking sounds and some kind of unnameable wind instrument — some kind of bagpipes, maybe?
The album ends, appropriately enough, with a cover of Radiohead’s “There There (The Bony King Of Nowhere),” and while I can’t claim it’s my favorite Radiohead song to begin with, I have to say that I think The Manichean’s improved on it here. They strip away the bumping, Björk-y groove of the original, instead relying on just voice and guitar for a devastatingly clean, pure, haunting sound until the halfway point, where Tirapelli-Jamail and Sinclair quietly start leaking the electronicized “storm” sounds from the first track in over the low-key, somewhat foreboding guitar and Sinclair’s ethereal, Yorke-ian vocals.
At the end of the day, Sakura is definitely an intriguing listen, smart and orchestral and unafraid, and it’s a welcome addition to the band’s steadily-expanding body of work. However, even with that in mind, there’s a part of me that’s wanting these guys to just get on with it, already. Whispers felt like a shot across the bow, an excellent, tantalizing, far too brief warning/promise of things to come, while remix EP Lacerus Rising, cool though it is/was, seemed like a little tidbit to tide fans over. And now, with Sakura, they’ve offered up yet another stepping-stone along the way to their long-awaited “real” full-length.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m loving it, seriously. I just want more, damn it all; I want The Big Surprise, what finally happens when the curtain rises on the show.