Float, Float On
Manaia I is an impressive realisation of a complicated concept. Imagined as a musical experience designed to simulate the lonely voyages of space travel, London based-bassist Valter Lima (going by 'Manaia') has composed an interesting sonic journey to be experienced through this 'visual live album' - initially recorded live as a set back in 2017 at London's The Engine Rooms - now available to be heard on all major streaming platforms.
I am unsure if it is fairer to approach Manaia I as a concept album or as a live album, as in honesty it straddles the two quite impressively. Despite a forgivable hiss sometimes present in the mix, this album sounds exceptional considering it is being recorded live and presumably with very limited (if any) additional takes. As seen in last year's list for our Top 12 Albums of 2019, our love for Jameszoo's Melkweg was in part born from our appreciation of how a 'live album' could sound as crisp and well-produced as it was, and Manaia's newest LP release follows in a similar vein. Credit for the excellent sound of this project should be given both to engineer Simeon Boys-Layton and Lima himself, responsible for the mixing and mastering of a well rounded release.
From a wholly musical perspective all of the performances are tight and faultless, if a little restrained. I was never blown away by the technical musicianship of any of the band's talented members, save for the phenomenal drumming that opens track 'Vortex' from Alexandre Reis, who alongside Patrick Bartleet counts himself as one of two fantastic drummers in Manaia's ensemble. This album very rarely throws intense jazz chops at you, even though each and every one of its members are clearly capable of them, all in the aim of providing an ambient experience that lets its listeners enjoy spacious moments of quiet in the performance.
That being said however, the album certainly does take its time to get going. With the opening 'Thank You For Flying With Manaia', 'Intro' and the hyper-ambient 'Lift Off' all fusing into a near 10 minute long opening sequence, this album is guilty of taking too long to find its feet. I understand that Manaia's decision to build up the ambience of the project for this long was done intentionally - but I do feel like the momentum of the record is harmed by how long it takes before truly starting with 'Eyes'. This fourth piece is really well done, combining the guitar tones of Pierre Cat and Stefan Gramunt behind the bass of Lima himself to form a sonic tide that perfectly suits the album's concept of "flying with Manaia."
Accompanied by the atmospheric keys and guitar shoegaziness of Iván Muela, 'Eyes' demonstrates exactly what this project is capable of. Ambience makes way for gorgeous single-coil chord tones and psych-rock twinged grooves before resting back into a spacious and mysterious tones. 'Vortex' crashes in after a short interlude with Reis' gnarly drum patterns and a supermassive wall of sound. I can say with authority that while the LP took its time to "lift off", after it gets in the air Manaia I is a great project. Lima gets an opportunity to shine on bass with a nice melodic line as the track closes, transitioning into its final act with 'Waking Up at the Centre of a Dream' and 'Past Future'.
The synth sounds of the penultimate track wouldn't feel out of place on Arcade Fire's phenomenal soundtrack to Spike Jonze's Her, but is mixed together with a gorgeously sensitive bass performance from the band leader and a perfectly laid back supporting role from his band. Next to shimmering synthesisers and delicate guitar performances this is a song to find yourself lost in space to and shows the skill of Lima's compositional ability. Following that, closer 'Past Future' begins with an industrial sounding sample that makes way for soft guitars, thumping drums and wonderful synth glitchiness (see [3:33]). Even after clocking in at over 8 minutes long this is probably Manaia I's most accessible track, largely ambient behind its lead instrumentation in order to embark on a very satisfying prog-rock adventure, and an excellent end to the album.
Ultimately Manaia I feels like a project that deserves to be witnessed in person, but this album certainly feels as though it has done justice to a tight and well-realised live performance. The performances are faultless, the sounds are exciting and though the album definitely could have done with getting off the ground a little faster, once it does leave the atmosphere it has a very interesting journey in store.
- 7.0 -
'Vortex', 'Past Future'
See Manaia I performed live at a special album launch event at London's The Shacklewell Arms on the 11th of March.
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.