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Norwegian Serena Maneesh present their self-titled, full-length debut â€œSerena Maneeshâ€? with eleven songs that slide down a razorâ€™s edge of distortion and pop whimsy, raucous guitar work and underwater static, angelic voices and primal screams.
The strange melodies are strikingly original, yet they strike to the heart of something familiar: a classic rock guitar lick, a wound, a kiss. Inspired by everything from Southern blues via Neu! to Gershwin, â€œSerena Maneeshâ€? is as much about exploring sound as crafting song. Working in both horizontal and vertical layers, head musician Emil Nikolaisen creates tuneful paradoxes, infinite yet time-bound. His meticulous compositions balance whispery female vocals and underlying violin with driving guitar rock, distorted samples, and chant-like repetition. Tracks such as â€œSapphire Eyesâ€? begin and end in liquid noise; in between guitars shriek and shatter, angels sing, and a snare beats along in cinque-pace time.
â€œSerena Maneeshâ€? was completed in half a year in various cities such as Chicago, (at Steve Albiniâ€™s Electrical Audio studio), Oslo, New York City and Stockholm. For the album, mixed by, among others, Martin Bisi (Swans, Sonic Youth), Nikolaisen employed several of his sisters (Elvira and Hilma), friends (Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile), and solid Serena musicians Lina HolstrÃ¶m on female vocals, Eivind Schou on violin, Sondre Tristan Midttun on guitar, and Tommy Akerholdt on drums, among others. (Several of these musicians also contributed to the bandâ€™s 2002 EP â€œFixxationsâ€? and more recently, â€œZurÃ¼ck,â€? a retrospective of material from 1999-2003. Both EPs received rave reviews from Norwegian critics and created an underground base of fans.)
On â€œSerena Maneeshâ€? songs are written not in Norwegian but in Englishâ€”the lyrics take liberties with structure and image, and fully tilt the listener upside down. Opening rocker, â€œDrain Cosmeticsâ€? expresses a longing for freedom from superficiality, and Nikolaisen interchanges verbs and nouns like glass beads on a choker. â€œTouch my lips to speak again/ Broken six-string ring again,â€? he sings. On â€œChorale Lickâ€? he sings of being, â€œstripped naked like that lonely fall.â€? But itâ€™s not all elevated soul searching â€“ Serena Maneesh takes herself to the social ills of the street with scathing commentaries on the post-modern malaise. Yet Serenaâ€™s strange interiority is increasingly exposed on the albumâ€™s journey through the beautiful and the grotesque, the broken and the restored.
Intonating a mystery and a grace, a feminine reflection emerges through eleven tracks of lush pop and lonely distortion. In the refraction of this image, the shrieks of the last track of â€œSerena Maneeshâ€?â€”â€œYour Blood in Mineâ€?â€”yield to the hushed, hymn-like tones of a piano. The pianist has forgotten himself, playing alone in a cathedral to a half-remembered song; alone but for the saints shifting in their tombs and the angels swinging by their fingertips from a ceiling chandelier. (Melissa Riches)