[sic] Magazine

Manual – Drowned In Light

Jonas Munk’s project, Manual , sounds more like a modern day continuation of Cocteau Twins than anything current by the any individual member of the long-disbanded wonder-group. As a producer, I’d put Munk neck and neck with Ulrich Schnauss . As a composer, I think the Dane shades it. Manual albums are wizards’ cauldrons. Into the mixture goes a sprinkle of Shields , a dash of Hookey , and liberal does of Guthrie , Seefeel and Durutti Column . Whether our alchemist employs digital or analogue means to cast his spells the effects are always magical.

The only caveat I’d level here is ennui. When commonplace, even magic can lose its impact. I think Munk realised this. I think it played on his mind when approaching Drowned In Light and I think it compromised him. On Drowned In Light, Manual has opted for variety and experimentation. Shot through with shafts of Blade Runner light, ‘Warm Circuits’ opens the album before quickly giving way to ‘Afterimages’, which is arguably the clearest link to previous Manual work. ‘Biarritz’ is an innocuous nod to Cocteau Twin miscellany circa Blue Bell Knoll while ‘Phaimomenon’ jolts us back to the early 80’ and in particular, the formative OMD (right down to that percussive hiss). Keys twinkle like Jon and Vangelis , guitars chime prettily enough but somehow, I’m still waiting to be wowed.

The title track slips past, as we might say in cricket parlance, without troubling the scorers before finally reaching the albums jewel. ‘Empty Inside’ begins as a plaintive strum but builds upwards in layers until an aching guitar refrain. Sublime stuff. This is the Manual we expect. The quality continues on ‘Pulsations’, a track that lives up to its name but then it’s back to coffee table Cocteaus from ‘Morning Glass 1982’ onwards and my concerns over Drowned In Light are crystallising. This is a career album, aimed more at the industry than the fans. Like Maps last year, Manual has tried to be more expansive and to break out of his comfort zone, only with mixed results. On paper, that sounds like the right thing for any artist to do. Another Azure Vista was probably pointless. The problem is, Manuals ‘comfort zone’ was the most gorgeous sounding place imaginable.

In itself Drowned In Light is no bad album. ‘Empty Inside’ is worth a tenner of anyone’s money. Many of the other tracks are a touch overlong but they always remain listenable and engaging. I can totally respect the move away from past works but, in going for more ‘songs’, Munk risks exposing Manuals lack of singer. Give me Azure Vista any day.