by Sean Deveney (@autonomousnloud)
The excitement of hearing something genuinely original is one of the things that keeps me interested in music. Not knowing anything about a band before giving them a listen is a tiny adventure, but when it pays off it does so in a big way.
I knew Maneka was the project of Devin McKnight from Grass is Green and Speedy Ortiz, but I had no idea what to expect. I’m kind of glad too because it made it even more mind-blowing. “Soft Serve (feat. Katie Capri),” the first track off Is You Is, starts very quickly and aggressively and then briefly shifts in tone and then shifts again as the guitar comes in more powerfully. What is immediately noticeable is the vocal approach. McKnight’s vocals vary between speaking (similar to a hip-hop approach) and melodic singing. This creates a truly unique first track and should certainly make a lot of people want to check out the rest of the album.
“Tiger Baby (feat. Jordyn Blakely)” forgoes the aggression heard on the first track but is still filled with emotion. It is more relaxed, but the wistful fuzz is accompanied by a guitar riff that is really strange and fantastic at once. The solo that kicks in vibrates its way through the fuzz and is very beautiful in its simplicity. Jordyn Blakely (from Jackal Onasis) makes it even more endearing with her soft vocals accompanying McKnight’s.
McKnight’s vocals on “Dracula (feat. Katie Capri)” fall somewhere in between the first two songs in terms of their intensity. This song has blown me away every time I’ve heard it because of the guitar that works so closely with the vocals and the way the very lively drums pick up and slow down the intensity. The song suddenly turns very heavy, but then tension is eventually lifted by Katie Capri’s (from Fern Mayo) vocals in a very satisfying way. The contrast between the very heavy guitar and the arrival of the melodic vocals creates a really distinct sound that I am obsessed with.
The interplay between McKnight’s and Capri’s vocals can be heard again on “Power (feat. Katie Capri)” as McKnight’s distant deep voice bolsters Capri’s almost whispering words. The bass is extremely strong as they both sing “I hope that everybody knows it’s time to take my medicine. I hope that everybody knows I didn’t take my meds again.” A completely insane solo then kicks in and defies any sort of logic in the best way possible.
The final track “Parents Outro” features audio recordings of McKnight’s parents talking about their experiences of being black in America. After years of touring, McKnight realized that a lot of the music scenes he had encountered were very white, and he often felt like he was losing his cultural identity. It was that feeling that initially inspired this project, so it is fitting that it concludes with very personal stories of some of his parents’ experiences concerning this identity.
McKnight’s previous projects have certainly operated in music scenes that are largely white, so this is a good way to expose these listeners to black voices. The final section of the track where his parents mention that this era cannot be the death of rock guitar/guitar heroes because their son is a guitar hero is also a delightfully warm way to end a truly unique and worthwhile album.