Mano Le Tough: Trails
Permanent Vacation

Mano Le Tough (real name Niall Mannion) might have spent much of 2014 doing the club rounds—apparently more than 100 gigs were performed around the world during that calendar year—but his latest collection, Trails, is hardly what one would call a straight-up club album. Oh, sure, the follow-up to 2013's debut full-length Changing Days isn't wanting for body-movers, yet there's no denying the Irish-born producer is hunting bigger game on the new ten-track release. It's something of which he is himself aware: “I guess I try and make music that has an emotional resonance without being overly sentimental or schmalzy,” he's said. “It means a lot to me to try and connect with the listener on a deeper level and add something to their lives that's more than a hands-in-the-air, 5 AM moment in a club (although there's nothing wrong with that).”

To prepare for the album's production, Mannion took a post-DJing break by relocating to the Swiss countryside to breathe in the fresh air, take long runs through hills and forests overlooking Lake Zürich, and generally recalibrate before entering the studio to lay down the new tracks. The album's called Trails to not only acknowledge the country trails he ran through but also the many stylistic trails he pursues on the fifty-four-minute set. It's a highly personalized statement by the artist that features a number of atmospheric electronic-pop songs, many of them featuring vocals, and clubbier forays rooted in house and techno.

With wiry synthesizers looping in place, “Running in a Constant Circle” inaugurates the recording on a trippy electronic note before locking a garage beat into position, the music growing heavy and blossoming expansively as more sounds and instruments are layered on, whereas “Generations” references an earlier time in spiking a percussive-heavy base with declamatory synths straight out of the ‘80s. The most dramatic retreat from the dance floor occurs during “Energy Flow” when Bannion strips the drums out altogether and places his winsome vocalizing front and centre. While his singing won't win any male vocal awards, there's no denying the sincerity of the effort, and his emotional outpouring is nicely abetted by an arrangement heavily rooted in synthesizers. More successful are infectious tracks such as the swooning “Half Closed Eyes” and irrepressibly funky title track that augment his vocals with grooving beats, as well as the luscious club production “I See Myself in You” and uplifting, guitar-laced outro “Meilen.”

As the latter reveal, even when Bannion focuses on the clubbier side of his sound, what results is something more than a merely functional 4/4 exercise. “I See Myself in You,” for example, traffics in an evocative style whose moods are by turns wistful and mysterious. While he's no doubt proud to be regarded as a house producer and DJ, Bannion's clearly an ambitious type whose interests extend beyond the club zone proper. Trails finds him attempting to strike a comfortable balance between his multiple selves and, though it's not the easiest trick to pull off, he for the most part succeeds in doing so.

November 2015