Given that this Chapel Hill, North Carolina, combo's willful brand of anonymity-mongering ranks alongside Will Oldham's irritating early dalliances with Palace self-obfuscation, one is tempted to level accusations of preciousness at it. Nowhere in the sleeve credits does one obtain personnel or instrumentation details, merely song titles, thank yous, and the notation that this self-titled debut was engineered and mixed by veteran Tar Heel producer Jerry Kee. For that matter, the press bio doesn't even supply the actual number of members, only that at some point the collective migrated from Greensboro, an industrial burg about an hour west of Chapel Hill, to the presumably more charitable musical clime of the celebrated college town.
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Well, that frustration begins to dissipate roughly 14 seconds into the first track, "Pageant Square." A sustained organ chord is joined by a galloping bass line directly descended from the Velvet Underground's "Run Run Run"; this is in turn greeted by a plucky acoustic guitar riff and a low-key but insistent lead vocal which, when joined by a higher-pitched harmony, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Ira Kaplan-Georgia Hubley lovers' walks of Yo La Tengo. (The latter vocalist sounds female, but minus the credits, it could be another guy whose blessed in the falsetto department.)
And from there, you're off. Utterly charmed. The Kingsbury Manx is one of those rare newcomers among the indie underground that nails it on every single song. That doesn't mean this is a perfect album; a few numbers tend to repeat one another's melodic constructs. But taken on their own merits, none of the tunes fails to get under your skin, and the standouts really stand out.
"Piss Diary," despite its acerbic title, casts a gossamer glow via a hymnal organ-cello motif while spidery guitar notes and lush three-part harmonies -- shades of Beach Boys -- ascend heavenward. Conversely (perversely?), a rootsy back-porch vibe suffuses "Cross Your Eyes," its muttered vocals and combined wah-wah/slide blues guitars harking back to the Kinks' 1971 classic Muswell Hillbillies. "Fields" shimmers forth upon subtle psychedelic guitar effects and a hypnotic, elliptical rhythm, eventually building into a steaming, pulsing drone -- and an unexpected acoustic coda.
Like the aforementioned Yo La Tengo, the Kingsbury Manx very deliberately utilizes the potential of dynamic tension and release, and to great effect. Also, as with other indie outfits such as Low and the American Analog Set, a general laid-back approach serves the material well, nudging rather than bludgeoning the listener toward acceptance of the Manx agenda. There's even a surprise a cappella number (think Beach Boys again) plunked down in the middle of the record that gently signifies the once-traditional Side A/Side B demarcation. Get up, grab another beer, and come sit back down. The band is happy to wait for you. (Overcoat Recordings, 3831 North Christiana, Chicago, IL 60618)