US - North Carolina - Full Moon 88 - 12/08/03
The Kingsbury Manx
Afternoon Owls EP
+ Aztec Discipline
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