Manual: Drowned in Light

Has it really been five years since the last album of new Manual material? Apparently, yes—so long as one doesn't count collaborations, two ambient albums, and a 2007 rarities collection. So, alright, even if it doesn't feel like Jonas Munk has been totally missing in action, Drowned In Light is the first collection of new Manual material to appear in nearly half a decade. The obvious first question, then, is whether the Manual sound has changed since it last appeared and, if yes, to what degree. As it turns out, the Odense, Denmark producer's music hasn't changed so much as simply become more refined—Drowned In Light is the sound of Munk perfecting his Manual signature rather than replacing it with a new one. At the same time, there are some departures that find Munk pushing deeper into already visited territories.

One of the album's major listening pleasures comes from simply attending to the guitar playing. Munk spreads washes of electric guitar against dense swirls of synthetic ambiance in “Afterimages,” and paints a lush oasis during “Slow” with the help of shimmering chords. Munk's affinity for both natural and synthetic sounds converges during “Empty Inside” when whooshes and acoustic guitar picking collide. A hint of Spanish-styled lounge exotica sneaks in during “Biarritz” to blend with the tune's analog synth atmospheres and acoustic guitar playing. A drum machine's motorik pulse infuses “Phainomenon” with an old-school krautrock feel, at least until the halfway mark at which point the ten-minute piece takes flight with an intensification of radiance and lilting swing. A kosmische musik aura pervades “Pulsations” too, especially when its liquified electric guitar sound is joined by analog synth sequences.

As intoxicating as incense, Munk's music sometimes feels like the best instrumental bits of Cocteau Twins and Slowdive melded together into epic settings drawn from psychedelic, ambient, electronic, and shoegaze genres. One of Drowned in Light's major drawing cards is its breadth, with Munk working into its dozen pieces a large spectrum of styles, and the collection therefore acts as a great introduction for the listener new to the Manual universe.

June 2010