The Atlantic Manor – Failing By the Second

The Atlantic Manor
Failing By the Second

Ahhhhh, everyone loves a divorce album … Well, OK, everyone loves MOST divorce albums (though Liz Phair seems to be the exception to that rule lately – sorry, Liz). Divorce albums are generally arresting, because, like all good rock music, they’re based out of emotional distress, which seems to be a topic that lots of folks can relate to.

The Atlantic Manor’s Failing By the Second is most definitely an emotional divorce record (and it seems that band only-man R. Sell is pretty honest and unapologetic about that fact). Sell’s vocal delivery closely resembles that of Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas (when the voice can’t hit the note, just try to emote it and see how that works), which actually works to quite a spooky effect in some numbers here.

As per The Atlantic Manor’s usual stuff, the ‘band’ here is essentially guitarist/vocalist Sell (though he does get some help in the way of female backing vocals, as well as in the drumming category courtesy of his usual partner Jorge Bejel). Everything here is sparse, as Sell sticks to his familiar ‘lo-fi garage rock’ guns throughout Failing By the Second (I couldn’t even discern bass tracks, actually – so if there are any, they’re mixed impossibly quiet). While that could be cinsidered a shortcoming, I must admit that there are some very good musical moments here.

The album-opening title track can honestly best be described as ‘lo-fi boombastic’ as Sell busts out a seven-minute experimental garage-blues dirge that pretty much torches everything else on the disc. An unwavering and dark, low-key rhythm guitar line sets the tone for the track, as a feedback wail winds itself around the rhythm as well as Sell’s tortured vocal monologue. Somewhere around the four-minute mark, a deep, resounding tribal rhythmic section morphs into the song, giving things a twisted and slightly disturbing element. The whole listening experience is surreal, to say the least, especially when a second disconnected rhythm guitar part floats in amongst the percussive rhythms.

The weird thing is, even though there’s nothing else even remotely resembling it on the disc, “Failing By the Second” is easily the standout song here. The next best thing, however, is the solemn “No One Cares About Your Reasons Why,” where the basic rhythm (guitar included) never changes during the entire 4 1/2-minute duration. A low synth line accentuates the rhythm track, while Sell seems to twist more pained vocals out of his throat and onto his musical canvas. When the synth rises above the rest of the mix at the end of the song, the effect is dramatic only because of the previously established rhythm track, which never once falters. The acoustic guitar piece that creeps from the fading of the track sounds quite a bit like Led Zepplin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” Another worthwhile track is the sub-three minute rollick “Jack’s Death Scene,” which actually sounds a bit like Bob Mould back in the Husker Du days (courtesy of Sell’s vocals and fuzzy rhythm guitar tones).

Beyond those three tracks, however, Sell’s project is, well, spotty. The emotion is prevelant throughout the entire album, but it’s just that the rest of the music doesn’t provide quite as much of a kick. Sure, “Strung Out Camp Talk” is a fuzz-punk solo-led blast, but at about a minute long, it’s hardly a blip on the radar here. “Everything Can Die Today” is a decent enough acoustic, dreamy number, but the template its built on is used to far greater success on “No One Cares…” “Suicide Jockey” is a very disconnected, slightly eerie number, but the problem is that after six-plus minutes, it just seems drab and punchless.

It’s not really that there’s anything bad about any of this material – it’s more a case of Sell having totally outdone himself with the title track, “Jack’s Death Scene” and “Failing By the Second.” While the disc as a whole seems a bit lacking, the bright points here are certainly solid. To say the very least, Sell’s offering up quite a hodgepodge of styles with his material here, and he should certainly get points for bravery for both that and the emotional nature of this work.