When we last heard from Marc Manning, he had posted four CDRs, including the eponymous Red Weather Tigers debut, which we described as “cowboy schizophrenia” that “tastes also of Oriental winds.” It was an unexpected conclusion, to be sure, but Manning engenders this. Peppered across those two hours of music were traces of ambient and goth, dance and orchestra. It is a landscape of surprises: “bending spoons,” indeed.
October 29 saw the release of An Uneasy Calm, a half-hour long, six-track CDR release in limited issue. An Uneasy Calm opens with a dancehall synthesizer buzz and what seems to be a biographical lyric sheet: “it's all machines and blinking lights…. Injections fill the air with black light…. Slow motion nurses brushing by my side.” Like always, the slow, rancher guitar bits, recorded with unsustainable volume and miles-away reverb, projecting fingering adjustments and guitar pick noise like separate instruments. Like always, the whispered falsetto and the Day of the Dead prose (elsewhere in the collection he intones, “incomplete ghost/ floating over a pile of bon
es/ an incomplete set”).
And like always, the occasional recording misstep: a misfretted chord, an acoustic knock, an odd mixing choice. If glossy, high-budget perfection is your wont, we might suggest a different avenue. But for the rest of us, these minute outtakes add texture and familiarity.
“The Trees” is a surprise, although it fits seamlessly here. A submission to the nascent piano-and-noise subgenre, this is a stark composition, fashioned with distant samples, and quite lovely. Not relentless, but certainly unrelenting. After a full listen, “The Trees” seems like an inevitable work for the artist, and you wonder how it has taken him this long to produce it. “A Little” features an angular guitar drone, empty-room echo and a near-silent vocal hook. A bit of constructive feedback for Manning, and for all DIY singer-songwriters in this vein: composing a track at a low volume and then recording it at a high one lends the work an air of timidity. A harder-hitting, more kinetic piece — even appended to the end of the album — would disperse the tension. Jeremy Enigk's sparse, oddball Return of the Frog Queen comes to mind.
You'll still like “Wait Patiently,” which closes the album. Guitar serves as both skin and bones here, and a siren melody brought in at the track's midpoint lends a touch of urgency. Manning sings, “We hold our breath and hope for landmarks. We count the hungry vultures in the trees.” It's timeless, yet somehow impeccably modern: An Uneasy Calm is a concise metaphor for the artist, the listener, and the times.