The release of White Manna’s first, eponymous, album back in 2012 coincided with my re-awakening to music through the re-emergence of what has often been termed ‘psych’ music. This was a very exciting time for me as I delved down many new rabbit holes like Alice in search of Wonderland. This first phase culminated in what I guess you could call my ‘Woodstock’… the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia of 2013 when, amongst many others, I got to see the band live for the first time (they were on between Fuzz and Mugstar as I remember).
I played that debut album incessantly and still give it a regular play today. I must admit that I have dipped in and out of the bands six albums upto this one, with ‘Pan’ being another particular favourite, and one that is still on regular rotation. However, I have to say that their last few album have somewhat passed me by amid the constant flurry of releases and the busyness of life.
This latest one, though, has stopped me in my tracks… maybe because it represents something of a new direction for the band… because it was not what I was expecting from a White Manna album? I had heard the previous one. ‘Ape on Sunday’, which in retrospective seems to be a tentative step in a new direction… but on ‘ARC’ the band have really owned it.
But it’s more than that I think… a change of direction does not always result in a pique of interest or an acceptance of something that feels inevitable… this however does feel like a real positive shift.
This is evident from the outset… a haunting title track with a fuzzy motorik beat that feels like the band are driving at 100mph in the fog. In some ways this feels like a transition track guiding you from your expectations into a new reality… and as the synths and Davis-like horns as ‘ARC’ fragments into a Cluster without the fuck.
This sense of Kraut experimentalism is immediately picked up on ‘Mythic Salon’ which is just phenomenal from the opening bars… the beats and wailing vocals are pitched just right as you’re immediately drawn into a mystical netherworld where you’re somehow caught between free jazz and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft.
In some ways ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ brings the two previous tracks together… there’s the same underworld vibe but interwoven with a cool, if broken, motorik beat. Then around halfway through some early-Numan synths break out and the whole thing shifts up a gear… perhaps gear being the operative word here… it’s magnificent!
After that ‘Pollen Ball’ keeps up the beat and, at around a minute, sweeps away the fuzz and clutter from the mind before you are hit with the almost as short ‘Painted Cakes’ which reminded me of some recent ‘Comet is Coming’ output… the beat here is mesmerising… before we’re led into the most ‘old White Manna’ number on the album, ‘Zosser’… a full high octane fuzzy blinder of a track which would probably fit in most places in their oeuvre… and stand out!
We’re then into another interlude with ‘Soft Apocalypse’ with its more thoughtful tone and musical fragments… it feels like a sonic waking dream… before what for me is the centre piece of the album ‘Surfer Moron’. It’s a track which starts out straight enough but gradually opens up into a stoner/ free jazz monster… it is hard hitting and experimental, but is also strangely meditative… you feel that it could go any way you wanted it to, and is definitely a produce of White Manna’s new more spontaneous approach. This is one of my tracks of the year so far because I love the way it combines so many disparate elements…
The album concludes with another short number, ‘Sailing Stones’ which feels like something of a continuation of the previous track… and then the album is over. It is quite a trip… in many senses of the word. It’s an album that sees a band pressing the reset button and exploring new influences and vistas in a way which works very well… the incorporation of new instruments and an increased use of synths really broadens the palette in a way that could set White Manna off on a really special journey into the future.
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