Some bands are special to you. They can be huge megastars that you discovered early, and you’ve seen them grow to stardom, from tiny little clubs to huge arenas. There are the small bands who only release an album or two before disappearing. There are the indie favourites who never quite break into the mainstream, but are influential and critically acclaimed. Then there are the bands who give a small bunch of fans a nice warm feeling inside, and pretty much carry on their day jobs, raise families, and still release the occasional record.
And it’s this last set of bands for whom the Internet could well be the saviour. To release a record in the good old days, you had to turn up to a studio, for weeks at a time, do promotional tours, play venues that you could only make money on if you sold out 1. Getting a CD into the store was an expensive business. Now, you can record much of your record in a cheap home setup, proper recording studio rates have plummeted, and who needs to go on a huge, expensive promo tour when you’ve got a bunch of fans on the Internet happy to sell the record for you?
Of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t make a living like this, but as a pro-am hobby it takes some beating. But what it does do is let bands like this continue, in proper, real form, releasing records, and making people happy. Which leads me onto the Kingsbury Manx. They are one of those special bands that not many people have heard of, and probably haven’t influenced many people, and critics by and large ignore them (though Pitchfork gave them a very nice review recently). And as you might realise by now, they are very special to me.
“Ascenseur Ouvert!” is Kingsbury Manx’s fifth album. Over the last nine years, they’ve been making music that seems simple to the ear, but has hidden depths that reward the curious listener. With opaque, softly sung lyrics, their songs are a pleasure to listen to – not quite easy listening (with the blandness that entails), but their warm, unfussy sound rests easy on the ear, and draws you in. Often, each instrument – the guitar, bass, keyboard – plays a simple tune, but when mixed together with Clarque Blomqvist’s restless drumming, becomes a complex, interwoven tapestry of sound.
See? Not easy to describe, you know. It’s a great trick, being as deft as this, which surprisingly few bands manage as well as the Manx do. And they’ve managed it with four great albums so far. Does this one live up to its predecessors2?
Opening with “Walk On Water”, you know straight away that the band haven’t decided to take a disco-funk-punk direction. The usual Manx themes are there; the lovely warm sound, the opaque lyrics (“A dirty hand wipes dusty cobwebs from my eye”), mixing together to form a gentle lead-in to the more lively “Over The Ouevre”. That features a keyboard sound so cheesy that you suspect it escaped from a mid-80’s made-for-TV movie about a toy duck that goes on a magical adventure. But somehow, they manage to make it sound good.
From then on, there’s nothing dramatically different; songs pass by very pleasurably, with some catching your attention quicker than others. “These Three Things” stands out, with what sounds like a breakdown in a relationship, harking back to their second album “Let You Down”. Again, beautifully opaque lyrics (“3 is the number I pillage and plunder\A 40-day slumber that you won’t stop talking about”) gently sung over a deceptively simple backing draw you in, delving deeper into the sound of a band who know exactly what they are doing. Get that rhyme of “plunder” and “slumber”; it’s a great rhyme but because it’s made at an unexpected time, it simultaneously welcomes you in and makes you feel slighly uncomfortable. Plus, the sudden breakthrough of a fuzzed-out guitar shocks you into paying more attention than you might have been.
Later on there’s “Galloping Ghosts” which, as you should expect by now, drifts past you the first few times until suddenly part of your brain goes “Hey, hold on, this is brilliant!” and it takes up earworm residence. And what a lovely video:
As ever, some songs tend to drift by, but that’s not a bad thing. Because, as ever, The Kingsbury Manx play beautifully, and it’s a pleasure to listen to this without any song yelling for your attention. As it slowly unravels, you find more and more to hear. In this day of sudden cheap thrills, you begin to realise that not only might this modern world of Interwebs and Last.fm and Spotify help a band like this find a fresh audience, it also helps remind you that there’s more to music than just listening to a track here or there, and that some bands really are special. I’ve no idea whether the Internet really will help Kingsbury Manx make more records, but I really hope it does.
Order the album direct from Odessa Records, who will also ship internationally for a few dollars more (as they did for me, very efficiently. It’s just taken me ages to write this). An MP3 download is available here, but then you don’t get the lovely artwork.
Oh, and watch the video for “Well, Whatever” here. No embedding, sadly.
Go and buy the album, already.
1 All the mid-sized venues in London are like this; if your favourite band hasn’t sold out the Shepherds Bush Empire then they will be in trouble with their label.