Some say that suicide is selfish. For the most part it is. But making music based on ideas surrounding the subject of suicide can also be selfish, especially when the cathartic ambition turns too far inward. This is what I hear coming through the blood-soaked fuzz and dripping from the tortured vocal centerpiece of Caroline on the self-titled debut from The Manhattan Love Suicides.
Now, getting a moniker from the title of an ‘80s cult film series and musical inspiration from the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and the Jesus and Mary Chain is fine, but MLS doesn’t completely move beyond what inspires them and get into more of what is original on this mixed debut.
The melodic hodgepodge journey is a distracting tug of war both track-to-track and mid-song. Some of the 12 tracks can be partly explained by a quick peek at the interchanging rhythm sections on the liner notes. And if this is a concept album and MLS is using the cult film as an artistic background, and this is all a deeper musical character study, then the album doesn’t work at all. But if they are seriously trying to be cathartic, then whatever valuable emotional insight Caroline is trying to convey—on tracks like “Suzy Jones”—is lost in the production concept; her vocals—simultaneously the band’s best and worst asset depending on the song—instead of getting lodged in the brain, disappear into the din that borders precariously on pretension.
Their best moments, though, are the flippant “Crush Whatever”, the sanguine cello-based “Thinking Is Killing Me”, and the sweet slumber and hopeful send off “Providence”. On these tracks, Caroline’s gentle monotone whisper-croon becomes another instrument melding with the ambient drone and the fun hide-and-seek pop guitar melody.
To get a complete feel for MLS, the live set might be the missing link, as the band is rumored to play sets lasting no longer than Andy Warhol’s suggested spotlight.