Playing It Safe
When you think of safety scissors, your memories may invariably drift back to kindergarten and trying to cut a piece of construction paper with dull blades provided to you by your teacher so that you don’t wind up stabbing your fellow classmates (either on purpose or accidentally). So that’s the mental image you may have in mind when thinking about the new Safety Scissors release, the play-on-words In a Manner of Sleeping, which is Matthew Patterson Curry’s first album under the moniker since 2005’s Tainted Lunch. For a guy who has moved around a lot—Curry was born in Minneapolis, then lived in San Francisco and Berlin for a period before settling down in Brooklyn—it’s odd that this new album is so blatantly boring, a travelogue to the sort of ambient techno that you might find played in the antiseptic environment of an airport waiting lounge. At times, In a Manner of Sleeping comes across as a glitchy, updated version of the Postal Service, and we all know how post-Postal Service bands have generally fared critically (see: Owl City). There’s only so many times where you can bleep and bloop your way to a listless feeling, and over the course of 12 tracks, In a Manner of Sleeping simply comes across as too much: overbearing and overlong.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few glimmers of hope sprinkled throughout the album: “The Floor”, which is based on a poem by Russell Edson, is suitably hiccuppy and has interesting alternating male and female vocals, but ultimately feels like it’s the product of some kind of video game run amok. “You Will Find Me”, which follows, fares a bit better. Probably the most straight-up pop song of the batch, the track features a loopy guitar line that’s mesmerizing and, overall, the song could nestle onto Give Up quite nicely. From there, you have to run to the end of the album to find anything equally hypnotic. “My Best Ideas” is the kind of late-night chill-out vibe that relaxes into itself like a fitted shirt, and it features the line, “My best ideas are when I’m sleeping / They couldn’t wake me.” And therein probably lies the problem with this record: the album works best when it seems utterly unconscious to the fact that this is really a knock-off of a post-millennium sound. Otherwise, the album is filled with things that are completely unmemorable, even when they try to be intriguing: “18 Hours” is an R&B track, which would be appealing for the sake of it, but does very little in its minute-and-a-half or so of composition and is nothing that you haven’t heard done better on a Weeknd mixtape.
In a Manner of Sleeping is filled, track after track, with uninterested ideas. This is exemplified by the two, um, cuts that bookend the album, both instrumentals: “Moving Light” and “Second Story”. The former is a mood piece featuring watery effects and a singular keyboard note rising above the murk; the latter is a short ballad that rides on a bass riff and all sorts of tweets and squeaks. Both songs go absolutely nowhere, but that’s not the most egregious sin this record makes. “Somnambulance”, all twitchy six minutes of it, feels like playing Super Mario Bros. while suffering from a particularly bad LSD trip. It’s ultimately silly, and underpins just how scattershot this LP really is. “Gemini” is similarly laughable, at least for the opening lines: “That’s right / These are my arms / My arms I wear / My left is my right / When I stand backwards.” Say wha’? And speaking of the daft and ridiculous, there’s a track here called “Lemon Scented Moist Pillowette”.
I suppose the greatest weakness of In a Manner of Speaking is that it strives to be an arty electronic pop record, but its poetry is the sort of thing you’d hear in an amateur night opening set by novices who feel that their writing has inflated importance. The results are alternately stupid and a tad bit snooze inducing (Curry at least got the title of the album right). You walk away from In a Manner of Sleeping feeling absolutely enervated, if you have a feeling at all. Very little of the album actually sticks in a memorable manner, which is odd considering the eight-year layoff between records. Maybe Curry had nothing to say and just threw a bunch of stuff together to see if it hit a wall and stayed there or not. The results certainly feel like it. It’s too bad—Curry seems like he’s a capable musician and one with ideas. It’s just that those ideas are so bland and unbecoming that this is a record that will never crawl into your head and make room there. In a Manner of Sleeping, then is, in a manner of speaking, the most tiresome and mind-numbing ambient techno album that you’ll hear this year. It strives to be something that it is not—and feels quite dull. A little like those cutting blades that they used to hand out in Kindergarten.