Manual: Drowned in Light

[9 November 2010]

By Mike Newmark

Manual (Denmark denizen Jonas Munk) began at the tender age of 20 as a wunderkind of laptop pop, and right away he developed a sound as tropical, ethereal, and insignificant as the palm trees and burnished yellows that keep showing up on his album covers. Very little separates his best record (Ascend, 2002) from his worst one (Azure Vista, 2005, or maybe this) except time. So when he changed course on Confluence in 2008, it came as quite the shock. Hardly a groundbreaker, Confluence gave us real lushness and spaciousness rather than smashing a vacation postcard in our faces, and it appeared to be inspired by rain, not the blinding sun, for once.

While that record was a (belated) step forward in Manual’s artistic development, Drowned in Light is a swift yank in the opposite direction, another brick in the wall of wimpy releases by Morr Music and Darla Records. He’s back to processed guitars, echoed beats, and the Korg’s ‘nostalgia’ button, housed in songs that are short on ideas and long on length. Manual does seem to have micromanaged the atmosphere even further than before. Unfortunately, this only increases the music’s perfect dullness. It was meant to evoke the lazy days of summer; instead it evokes the feeling you get when you’re dehydrated on the beach wearing too much sunscreen. Paying attention to Drowned in Light gives me an instant exhaustion headache.

If I were forced to identify a new concept thrown into the cauldron, it would be a hint of kosmische musik most prominent on “Phainomenon” and “Blood Sun”. It’s an unexciting rip-off of that genre, but at least it’s something. Manual is 30 now, and he seems utterly terrified of trying new things. How about vocals? Or a kick-drum? Or a bunch of circus animals running through the studio as he’s feeding his ten thousandth guitar riff into his computer? His beachy, gauzy contemporaries (Lone and Benoît Pioulard, for two) are far surpassing him, and his sound is dating faster than the VCR. There is no compelling reason to throw down money for Drowned in Light if you’re familiar with any of his records. Until his catalogue quits sounding like a giant Ulrich Schnauss b-side, Ascend and Confluence are all the Manual you need.

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