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The North Shore

Manual with Jess Kahr
The North Shore

Even if you're a fan of previous work by Manual, this newest release from him may take you by surprise. The newest entry in the Bliss Out series on the Darla label, it finds him (along with Jess Kahr) moving into what is easily the most ambient territory that he's ever been in. Even though his previous release (the recent Isares EP) ventured into an even softer palette than his usual micro-programmed laptop electronics, it still had more to grasp onto than this nearly 45 minute nebulous mass.

If you've been paying attention to the Bliss Out series, though, it should come as no surprise. While some artists have reached out and done some of their best work (the very-nice ...Or You Could Just Go Through Your Whole Life And Be Happy Anyway by Aarktica), others have found the series a chance to indulge their most droned-out moments (like the 2-CD haze of soft guitar washes by AMP). The North Shore falls into the latter category, and as mentioned above, don't expect anything like you've heard from Manual in the past.

"Always Alone" opens the disc with layers of subtle ambient washes, mixing keyboards, filtered vocals and found-sound of the surf into a lovely passage while "1986" draws from palettes of sound that are familiar for the artist, yet is content to flutter along with soft pulses of breathy keyboards while chimes slowly fade to the front of the mix. Musically, it's "Eleda" that moves in the most interesting ways, mixing a soft crackling noise over deep gong hits and other submerged melodies.

With the found sound samples (crickets pop up in "Burn") and the sepia-toned and heavily processed washes of sound, the album feels more nostalgic than anything, recalling earlier 90s ambient albums by artists such as Air Liquide and Young American Primitive (laugh if you must, but I still enjoy spinning the 1993 Chill Out comp once in awhile). That said, it also feels like the logical parting release for this time of music from Manual. It's not his strongest work by any means, but if you're into soft soundscapes with a slight romantic nod, you're not going to go wrong here. As for Jonas Munk, I'm sure he has plenty of other tricks up his sleeve still.

Rating: 6.75