Mano Le Tough: Changing Days
Permanent Vacation

In essence, the first Mano Le Tough full-length Changing Days documents Niall Mannion's attempt to extend his alias's sound beyond the dance music scene into a realm that's as focused on melodic pop songwriting as it is club tracks. That's obvious from the first song on the ten-track collection when “Cannibalize” adds his own singing voice to the tune's instrumental makeup. In truth, it's not the best song on the album, though there's no question its startling percussive strikes force the listener to sit up and take notice. Placing the song first would seem to indicate Mannion's preference that the album be seen as a song-based project rather than one conceived exclusively for the dancefloor.

Diversity is a key, as Mannion purposefully ensures that contrast is present and that the songs don't end up sounding like variations on a too-common theme. Dance rhythms are never too far away, however, no matter how pop-oriented a given song might seem. On the vocal front, gospel and even jazz enter the picture during the rollicking “Please,” whose soulful vocal catches one by surprise, while “Primative People” [sic] exudes a rather New Wave-like quality in its lyrics and brooding vocal melodies, even if the rhythms are more house-related. Even when a track downplays vocals (if not eschews them altogether), it's still strong on melody, as the rather melancholy “Dreaming Youth” and locomotive “A Thing From Above” illustrate. But Changing Days is not the first time the melodic side of Mannion's music has been emphasized. After all, he first turned heads in 2009 when his Warhorn EP appeared on Prins Thomas's Internasjonal label, which likewise celebrates melody and rhythm in its releases, and then followed it up with EPs on Mirau, Dirt Crew Recordings, Buzzin' Fly, and Permanent Vacation.

Not surprisingly, the sonic dimension of the material impresses, with Mannion repeatedly demonstrating his command of sound design and juxtaposition. His instrumental skills are showcased memorably during “Everything You've Done Before” in a sparkling arrangement that finds vibes, percussion, and piano woven into a motorik whole nicely complemented by a snappy house groove. Vocals appear here, too, even if the track would succeed just as well without them, given its alluring instrumental character. The vocal-less “Changing Days,” “Moments of Truth,” and “Nothing Good Gets Away” likewise stand out for striking arrangements that see synthetic elements merged with radiant arrays of percussive sounds (cowbells, cymbals, claps), the latter two in particular strong and punchy exemplars of the Mano Le Tough sound. The album material suggests that these are indeed changing days for Mannion and his pet project.

January 2013