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The Kingsbury Manx
Afternoon Owls EP
+ Aztec Discipline

Overcoat

The first two Kingsbury Manx albums are absolute favourites of mine. As a band they have a genius way of making understated songs that win your heart with their lilting guitar melodies, inventive structures and sighing just-in-tune vocals. They sound like a band who love the sound they are making, but don't want to show it off too much - you have to discover the beauty yourself.

In those two albums there is so much to enjoy that you can listen to them over and over and appreciate them anew each time. The debut inches ahead for me, as it was the first I heard, the range of styles is broader, and it was a love affair that I shared with my late friend Dom.

These two releases find The Kingsbury Manx traveling further down the more conventional path of Let You Down, which initially disappoints. It took a while for me to get into their second album, the songs seeming to have lost their magic, only to be wearing slightly more straight-laced instrumental clothing, the edges blurred with delay pedals and extended codas. Afternoon Owls and Aztec Discipline are both of a type, so it's a mystery why they chose to release the songs in this way. The EP is five songs long, the album ten, so it would have made more sense to me to release a single excellent album than a good EP and album. Ah well.

Being as it's The Kingsbury Manx I have perhaps given these songs more chance than I would otherwise, but there's plenty to enjoy here. The order of tracks does not always show the songs in their best light, which is partly the reason it sounds as though an excellent album could have been salvaged from these constituent parts, with more attention paid to how the songs relate to one another, which is how the first two albums succeeded so astoundingly: great songs in the right order, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

As soon as you start to doubt the efficacy of the whole, you start to examine the parts with greater scrutiny than perhaps they deserve - which is probably why I was initially very angry at hearing Aztec Discipline. You can forgive an EP for now blowing you away, but an album should have the best songs, the most care attended to it. Only the wonderful "Pelz Komet" that begins the album made me prick my ears up on the first few listens. Then the floaty finale "Fixed Bayonets" came to my attention by massaging my scalp with banjos. "De-Da Dementia" has an impressively menacing atmosphere, unexpectedly so. And then? Well, 'Pinstripes' has nice drums. The rest still pass me by a little. I'm trying.

If I wasn't such a Kingsbury Manx fan I would dismiss these releases a lot more roundly than I am. But I'm so disappointed that they've gone in such a comparatively dull direction that I can't help but sound like a sourpuss. This is nice music, don't get me wrong, but nowhere near as breathtaking as I would expect. I'll give it another go...

Copyright © 2003 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Kingsbury Manx articles/reviews: Let You Down, The Fast Rise and Fall of the South.

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