Like other musicians whose primary instruments are laptop computers, Canadian-bred U.K. resident Dan "Manitoba" Snaith is simultaneously saddled by specific sonic expectations and set free in a truly endless field of sound. Most of his contemporaries are often done in by this push and pull. Trip-hop fiddlers and dance-floor superstars become too comfortable and preoccupied with mainstream pop to think outside the box; and young IDM-punk dilettantes are so extremely impish they find delight only in digitalia's kinky fringes.
With Up in Flames, his sophomore full-length, the melodically gifted but heretofore unfocused Manitoba crafts a compromise: a song-oriented album that peers into one kaleidoscopic view of an electronic-beats future by using the prism of the past. In the process, he adds to the classic psychedelic canon, upping the ante on both the Chemical Brothers and Spiritualized. Those groups spent the '90s as festival-headlining paragons of druggy Britannia, sharing third-eye-opening intentions and stimulants, while keeping blueprints of both "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Eight Miles High" near big beat dance tents and shoe-gazer indie-noise gigs. Manitoba embraces all these, but then he swirls them inside his Apple G4 hard drive, drawing on recipes inherited from Blue Cheer (power-trio jams) and Kieran "Four Tet" Hebden (fun with micro-samples). So the huge-sounding Flames is as dosed with clicks, cuts and break beats as it is with free jazz squeals and Eastern guitar drones. Big? Oh yes!
Which means the old-school hippies should by all rights be drawn to "Hendrix With KO," its piano trills, rolling drums and melted vocal courtesy of Koushik Ghosh coalescing into sloppy Mancunian dance-rock, just as IDM nerds can get their kicks with the acoustic-guitar-driven "Bijoux," where Krautrockers from '60s commune drum circles come together with idyllic ambientologists to construct tie-dyed sunbeams. Throughout, Manitoba puts such pieces together with Timothy Leary-meets-My Bloody Valentine radiance, making Up in Flames a mosaic that's precisely looped but sloppy with lysergic spontaneity. And how many laptop-records can you say that about?