by Myles Dunhill (@mylesdunhill)
Manatree are the Virginia based duo of Jack Mayock and Alex Elder, a group that produce gentle and intricate folk-pop. On their latest, Engines, they have constructed effortlessly dense songs packed with so many twists and turns that even the liner notes should come equipped with a map just in case you lose your way. It all feels fresh and reminiscent of a sound that a lot of indie bands are shying away from in the last few years, yet when Manatree attempt it they do it serious justice.
Most tracks start simple enough with soft guitar licks slowly blossoming underneath a variety of detail enriching synth patches, while the crisp production elevates the vocals and gives the whole thing a nice polish. Opening and closing the album, “Brushfire” and “Brushfire (Reprise)”, tie the album together into a cohesive whole; the calculated sum of its parts never feeling like an afterthought. Immediate standout, “The Words”, is such a well executed voyage of a track, with its repeating guitar refrain jamming itself deep into the recesses of your subconscious, it’s impossible to deny its addictive power.
The real surprise here is the title track which starts off stark with just a strummed acoustic guitar and dry vocal before soft synths imbue it with even more drama; just one example of Manatree showing how restraint can work in your favor. Even a short instrumental like “Thoughts Don’t Count” or the beautiful acapella track “Staying Up” exemplifies how haunting and impactful this group can do with so little. The rest of the album is a prog-pop odyssey with flourishes and innovation abound, how it can contain so many ideas without coming off self-indulgent is a huge feat.
Engines is a grand work from a group that put a lot of dedication into expressing their ideas in addition to showcasing their excellent musicianship, and it is near impossible not to find yourself singing along to the majority of these tunes after a few listens. It’s a memorable record in every which way and with such clean and smooth production, the immediacy of it all packs a wallop. Fans of groups like Local Natives, Fleet Foxes, and Grizzly Bear shouldn’t miss out on this one.