Serena-Maneesh – Serena-Maneesh


Most music critics and many a fine-tuned music fan have proclaimed the band Serena-Maneesh as the second coming of My Bloody Valentine, but this seems to be an overstatement and a not quite accurate comparison of these two bands. Although on their self-titled album Serena-Maneesh do incorporate certain aspects of My Bloody Valentine’s sonics, they also add bits of Jesus And Mary Chain and Sonic Youth guitar (and other) noise to the mix, as well as a relentless, hard-edged bluesy sound.

The first few songs offer a compelling listen, with opener “Drain Cosmetics” sounding the most My Bloody Valentine-like, but by mid-album, many of the tunes become repetitive or devolve into ear-grinding noise. Listening to this album in one sitting is a challenge, with the punishment being greater than the reward. On headphones it’s a downright headache-inducing task. Taken in small doses, however, the barely controlled-chaos charms of Serena-Maneesh shine through.

Here is what’s good about them – on parts of songs they incorporate layers of hazy, disembodied, from-the-ether vocals, ear-searingly squalling, fuzzed-up guitar lines that morph into ear-scouring feedback, and dynamic, pressing-forward, stomping drums (akin to “You Made Me Realize” by My Bloody Valentine) that give the impression of a careening ghost-train riding the rails and blasting by the static scenery.

On the downside – they also incorporate psychedelic, 1960s to 1970s, sharp electric guitar freak-outs that come off too retro-sounding. Variation in dynamics and tone is also lacking – the same type of relentlessly pounding drumbeat always forms the backbone of songs, and the woozy, spectacular My Bloody Valentine segments only explode in short bursts and aren’t sustained long enough.

Lastly, and most importantly, almost every song devolves into pure, unpleasant noise that just grinds the auditory canals down (similar to all the unlistenable parts of Jesus And Mary Chain songs, as a reference point). At least with most My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, and usually Jesus And Mary Chain songs there seems to be a pattern and tone that is followable and pleasant enough, so that no matter how strong and chaotic the guitars get, the tune doesn’t leave the listener aurally and emotionally stranded and questioning what the song is going on about!

“Drain Cosmetics” starts off promising with harder-edge guitars and a psychedelic feel. It features floating, dreamy bits of vocal bliss (courtesy of Emil Nikolaisen and Lina Holmstrom) amid a bluesy build-up of relentlessly rolling freight train sounds and some fuzzed-out feedback. It’s a compact number that melds the airy with the earth-bound in a compelling manner. Serena-Maneesh get the balance right, with a compact and well-crafted tune that has elements of My Bloody Valentine incorporated throughout.

The freight train rolls on with “Selina’s Melodie Fountain”, all squalls of distorted guitars, hard, chugging, My Bloody Valentine-esque rhythm, bluesy harmonica bits, and a ‘boom-chica-chica’ sound. Emil’s and Lina’s vocal dreamy parts don’t occur as often as the opening song, but when they do, the vocal tones are a lovely contrast to the stormy, wrangling tangle of guitars.

A multitude of melodic fragments are strewn amid the cyclone build-up of guitar noise on “Un-Deux”. This tune has a definite 1960s vibe with the fast guitar strum of a typical My Bloody Valentine song and the feeling of a ‘shake, rattle, ‘n’ rolling’ train going through a tunnel.

The psychedelic, Eastern tinged, 1960s guitar sound of “Candlelighted” changes the guitar tone a bit, but the same rhythmic beat that highlights “Selina’s Melodie Fountain” can be found here again, against a hum of guitar noise with harmonica in the background, and a ghostly, howling, more spacey sound, with little odd lines of guitar coming in and out of aural focus from the sonic miasma. A piercing blues-guitar line wends around and gets blustery, and finally there is a change in key. Late in the game the unadorned vocals come in, which soon sound like they emanate from underwater and become slower than the beat, making for an odd sonic contrast. The guitars become followable, but that headache-inducing relentless beat is still pounding away (where is that bottle of aspirin when you need it?), as slower piano notes seep in by the ending. It’s almost like the band is trying to throw the listener off-kilter with all the varied, incongruous sounds.

“Beehiver II” is a screaming phoenix of distortion – a head-long train to oblivion. Buzzing, whiny guitars are in overdrive against a fast beat and manipulated, lower register vocals from Emil, who talk-sings, then exclaims, and Lina vocally sighing on ‘n’ off. The roiling guitar noise builds up to excoriating, aurally- blistering levels of noise with yelling, bashed cymbals, way-past-squalling guitars to noise and distortion propelled by the same repeated rhythm. It sounds like a stage being savagely destroyed at the end of a gig.

The centerpiece, “Sapphire Eyes”, is low-key at first, with bright, repetitive, looped sounds of Lina singing drowsily – airy, plain, accented, and light, with a slowly dawning sound – a respite from the madness of what went before. There are few shards of hard guitar, but it’s mainly Lina’s moment to shine softly – but only for a moment. Then buzzing guitars circle, tinged with bluesy harmonica and a beat that builds up, and eventually the drums persistently hammer away at the prettiness. The guitars reach squall level, with drawn-out strings in the background and out-of-place dreamy singing, but that pounding drumbeat gets repetitive. Halfway through the song, the tempo changes to an old-time My Bloody Valentine tune, all sighing vocals and swooning cocoon of guitar sound, but once again, only for a moment, then it’s a quick dive back into guitar squall and hard harmonica that dissolves into two minutes of near silence…

“Don’t Come Down Here” emerges slowly, reveling in the sweet stasis of My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins type guitars, all minor-key and mellow, with a lighter wash of sound, as Emil and Lina do their best Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher impressions, with a woozy, displaced feel that is My Bloody Valentine’s signature. But it doesn’t last for long. It all breaks down into gritty, fuzzed-up guitars, a stomping beat, and unpleasant high-pitched noises, as the walls of the room crumble into the flames…Then, from out of the ash and rubble come laconic beats and pretty guitar lines, as the song ends with a surprising alt-country twang.

“Chorale Lick” seems like a rehash of the previous songs, repeating all the same melodies and rhythms until it devolves into guitar noise and bashed cymbals, a whirlwind of guitars, and coolly dispassionate, lower-tone vocals from Emil.

The short instrumental, “Simplicity”, starts off with a simple, strummed guitar line and ticking-clock beat that fills with sharp, looming guitar lines intruding from the background, as starting-up chainsaw noises and loopy, spacey sound flit in ‘n’ out.

Closer “Your Blood Is Mine” is a beast, no two ways about it. It starts off slowly, with low-key, pretty, bell-like notes (but always with that constant beat), as Lina’s vocals float in and the hard guitars start cycling in background. Higher-pitched, noisy guitar lines follow, and it’s a slow build up of rusty, harsh guitars as the beat gets faster and louder, with a tambourine shaking in time to the beat, the song shifting to a more menacing and urgent tone. The build up in sonic force is like a gathering storm and it’s time to cringe in anticipation and apprehension at what will be unleashed.

When the storm of “Your Blood Is Mine” hits, it rages and engulfs the listener with screaming harmonica bits, distorted, shrieking guitars, a run of noise similar to dialing through several detuned radio stations, hammering piano notes, possible yelling in the mix, and tape-destroying noises – and all the while there is the constant rhythmic beat which, in a way, creates structure and contains the chaos and makes it followable (akin to “Anuerysm” by Nirvana as a template of simplistic rhythm to build upon). The storm finally breaks ten minutes in, and it all ends with a couple minutes of calm – simple, placid piano notes – perhaps to signify that all has not been lost to chaos…

So, yeah, if you want the wax knocked out of your ears, then go pick up this album.