The Kingsbury Manx

Ascenseur Ouvert!

by Sarah Moore

4 June 2009

 
cover art

The Kingsbury Manx

Ascenseur Ouvert!

(Odessa)
US: 21 Apr 2009
UK: Import

Much like its previous titles, the Kingsbury Manx’s latest release has the tendency to pass by without your noticing on the first listen. For some reason, time is essential when digesting this album. The longer the listener takes to unfold the layers of sound and lush lyrics, the better the album gets. The North Carolina band comes full circle with 2009 marking the tenth anniversary of the band. For its newest release, the band headed back to its debut recording studio, Duck Kee. From the alt-country arrangements and the Brit-pop falsetto harmonies, this hazy and dreamy album has chunks of songs that really flourish with inspection. 

The title translates from broken French to “Elevator Open!” supposedly because the band is “too slow moving for the stairway, so they have bypassed it for the elevator.” Many of the songs follow a similar cadence, churning alt-country melodies and shimmering-falsetto harmonies. In fact, the band wants to celebrate the slowing down of life and to wallow in the moment of simple pleasures (like fixing a broken sink or watching a baby’s first steps). In a way, the Kingsbury Manx have written its answer to John Stuart Mill’s higher-versus-lower-pleasures question in song. Principle songwriters Bill Taylor (guitar, vocals, etc.) and Ryan Richardson (drums, bass and vocals) have concocted a solid base of songs while including mostly lo-fi instrumentation. The opening track, “Walk on Water” employs member Paul Finn on Farfisa organ while engineer Jerry Kee softens it with pedal steel.

In “The Whip and the World”, the lyrics wrap themselves in dark and depressing themes while the accompaniment flits about with an airy, whistling Nord Electro keyboard, sparse banjo (band member Clarque Blomquist) and recorders. The dreamy, hazy soundscape makes anything twee feel all the more psychedelic. “A tryst and a girl and a lie / These are the things that make me sigh / Oh, what a nice surprise!” Taylor’s sarcasm arises amidst his warm and fuzzy vocals, double tracked much like Elliott Smith’s. 

Ironies aside, the Manx like to really focus its energy and sound toward the treble side of things, leaving percussion to what sounds like lo-fi maracas with a minimum drum kit (e.g., “Well, Whatever”). Synth strings lengthen the sound and add a bit of extra urgency. “Galloping Ghosts” comes later with resonating harmonium, piano and Farfisa in a Pink Floyd coma. Soft whimpers of vocals describe a post-apocalyptic nightmare: “Arise from the grave / Look out across a silver landscape of galloping ghosts on our heels racing and chasing / The nightmare’s almost over now.” The morbid description belies the dreamy and pleasant, summery and country sounds. 

“These Three Things” is a standout on the album, as a meditative guitar riff and walking drumline support a soaring and floating melody. Taylor’s initial lines usher in the bass drone with mantras, “There are no walls of gold.”  The instrumentation builds further, and the refrain works as a round but they never really do one. The simplicity of counting feels more like an “ohm” than Sesame Street. “One, two, three / One, two, three / One, two, three is the number of things I can wonder about,” Taylor and Richardson repeat. Again, simplicity is the focus. Buzzing guitars enter at the pinnacle moment, and then multiple parts of vocals enter as the fuzzy rhythm guitars mixes and coalesces with the other instruments, becoming a cavalcade of sound. But it’s the parts they don’t sing that ring out the most.

Ascenseur Ouvert!

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