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Manitoba: Up in Flames

Domino, 2003

Rating: 4.8

 

 

Posted: April 25, 2003

By Laurence Station

Manitoba (aka Dan Snaith) got the world of electronica buzzing with 2001's Start Breaking My Heart, a strong if not overawing debut, but his sophomore effort, Up in Flames, is a genuine breakthrough. Where Start Breaking My Heart fit snugly into the realm of jazzy electronica, with just enough underlying tension to make Boards of Canada proud, Up in Flames does a full 180-degree turn on the intriguing but scattershot sound of its precursor. Fusing the UK shoegazer movement (My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3), circa 1990, with mid-to-late '60s psychedelic/experimental rock (Beach Boys and Phil Spector), the Canadian-born, currently London-based Snaith achieves a near-perfect balance between electronic experimentation and good ol' pop-rock.

Utilizing a mix of old analog equipment (Farfisa organs, glockenspiels), classic guitars and digital samples, Snaith spends the album's 40 minute running time serving up an incredibly dense, but never claustrophobic platter of squalls, tones, beats, bleats and painstakingly processed vocals to create a bright universe of infectious rhythms and intricate melodies. "Bijoux" uses ringing electric guitars and angelic background harmonies that would make Brian Wilson proud to create so sumptuously rich and varied a psychedelic tapestry -- like a musical pinwheel, complete with innumerable sampled overlays and scorching horns. "Kid You'll Move Mountains," meanwhile, produces a Phil Spector-worthy Wall of Sound force field, complemented by lyrics that are bathed in shimmering electronic gauze and then obliterated by a relentlessly crashing beat. "Jacknuggeted" is an updated Summer of Love anthem, complete with gentle guitar strumming and earnest vocalizations, climaxing with an arrestingly modern blender effect. "Every Time She Turns Round It's Her Birthday" reflects the greatest UK shoegazing influence, with an extended middle section that gives the sound a dense elasticity without noodling too excessively. Snaith may be gazing backwards for inspiration, but he's progressing full-steam ahead. "Skunks" is the only cut that doesn't hold up under close scrutiny, like one long introduction to a subsequent track that never arrives. Fortunately, it doesn't seriously impede the album's otherwise masterful sequencing.

The main vibe conveyed on Up in Flames is one not of dark, smoky clubs, where glow sticks and X-tabs are de rigueur, but of a spacious park on an incredibly bright and cloudless day. Snaith soaks in the rays, offering a uniformly optimistic outlook throughout. His debt to the club scene so important to the success of electronica artists is well paid on "Hendrix With Ko," serving up contagious beats and the vocal talents of Koushik Ghosh guaranteed to keep even the most leaden feet from faltering.

While Snaith seemed content to follow in the footsteps of others, on his debut, here it's clear that he's playing by his own rules. Up in Flames finds him forging a fresh, exciting and adventurous new direction that moves well beyond the current expectations and demands of the form. With Up in Flames, the sound of post-electronica has arrived.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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