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Serena Maneesh

S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor

[4AD; 2010]

By ; March 25, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

The opening track on the new album from Norwegian band Serena Maneesh is a complete and utter mess. Stop-starts, seemingly random bursts of static and energy from both left and right, a rolling DJ Shadow-like drum beat and unintelligible vocals push out at you from the first minute – but it works. This apparent mess has been crafted from the ground up by a band that know what they’re doing. In the chaotic energy, patterns emerge, and the result is the beginning to a well-crafted sophomore effort that channels My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Autolux – in vocals, guitars, song structure and more. I’ll say this: it took eight days to mix each track on this album and it was recorded in a cave – and it shows.

I saw Serena Maneesh open for Nine Inch Nails in 2007. As a cynical teen eager to see my favourite band play for the first time, SM were just another obstacle in my way, and like most opening acts at high profile gigs, they were completely ignored and greeted with polite golf claps and nothing more. I seem to recall saying something smarmy along the lines of “They need to give Robert Smith his songs back,” but in those three years since that concert a lot has changed, my attitude including. The band have gone from a cheap-sounding Cure knockoff to a more mature-sounding, more impressive and far more engaging band. Opener “Ayisha Abyss” is the perfect precursor to the next one-two punch, “I Just Want To See Your Face” and “Reprobate!” – both tightly wound songs that seem like they could fall apart at any time, yet continue along amazingly. Next song, “Melody for Jaana,” is a beautiful, droning, folksy ballad in which the electric guitars are basically the only thing you can hear, yet they’re completely shoved to the back, out of the way, doing nothing but embellishing the beautiful voice of the singer and the acoustic. A fine piece of work and something that needs to be put out on a seven inch immediately.

The next song, “Blow Yr Brains In The Morning Rain,” is a rocking freakout grounded in bass and wah-wah guitar – sure to be a live favourite – and following is“Honeyjinx,” a track that basically defines cavernous reverb (remember the whole “recorded in a cave” situation). Its ending, a lovely chime and mellotron shimmer, gives us a glimpse of the perfection this band is capable of; forgive me for gushing, but this is incredibly well done.

Follow up “D.I.W.S.W.T.T.D” is probably the one thing on the album that doesn’t need to be here. An almost Mars Volta-like workout that moves at an incredible pace and goes basically nowhere is sure to be polarising among fans – some will love it, some will find their skip fingers itching – and the song surely wouldn’t affect the flow of the album terribly. Bongos and Flutes bring in album closer “Magdalena (Symphony #8),” a jazzy, wooden ride through strange territory that takes a backwards turn halfway through, turning into a dreamy extended coda of itself. And then it’s over. Thirty eight minutes of bliss.

I did not expect this. I wasn’t a fan at first listen of this band, and while my situation and location were probably undesirable for a first time listener at the time, this just goes to show how much better a band can become in a few short years. Don’t miss this album. If you don’t like it, at least try the next one. You might be surprised. I was.


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