Manhattan Roar – A Place Where Awkward Belongs
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: February 6, 2010
It has been over a year since Florida-based indie-pop outfit Manhattan Roar released this record, but what this review lacks in timeliness hopefully compensates in exposing a few more people to an excellent EP that I wish I’d known about twelve months prior. The band are able to move from ambient melancholy to uplifting pop seamlessly, mixing their unique tones with interesting song structures to give a sense of originality to a style of music that is often restricted in its simplicity. In its poppier moments, the vocals are similar to that of Andrew McMahon of Jack’s Mannequin, whereas the more emotive aspects of the music draw parallels with a more pitch perfect version of Cody Bonnette from As Cities Burn.
My usual preference is to avoid "blow-by-blow" style reviews, but A Place Where Awkward Belongs is such a natural journey that I feel it is warranted on this occasion. "Astronaut God" and "Secure in Vain" open proceedings superbly, showcasing the strength and dynamism of the vocals as well as the intricacies in the song writing. "Astronaut God" is a quick-tempo affair that has an uplifting, summery feel to it, reminiscent of Jack’s Mannequin, and where Manhattan Roar excel is in the ability to craft such catchy, pop-laden tracks that do not conform to the traditional verse-chorus-repeat formula that makes many pop songs sound familiar and unmemorable. This trend continues into "Secure in Vain," which for me is the EP’s finest moment, switching tempo to a more reflective, melancholy pace before allowing the chorus to power through with an emotional vocal delivery that compliments the ambient guitars beautifully.
"Something Where Something Once Was" changes the dynamic once again to a more straightforward pop song that delivers a strong chorus and proves that the band can do simple and effective just as successfully as ambient and progressive. The first sign of weakness comes in the form of instrumental interlude "The Fabled Pink City." An instrumental offering should be very appealing following the impact of the instrumentation in the preceding trio of tracks, but the result here is disappointing, instead providing only an ineffective meandering of notes that adds very little to the EP as a whole.
"The Seigheyffe’lone" steers the record back on track with a fine example of what makes Manhattan Roar so fresh and exciting. The song starts off with a vocal soliloquy, accompanied by a steady muted chord progression, giving the impression that the song is going in an obvious direction, except that it does completely the opposite and rides away on a new tangent, and then another, before arriving at the scene of another superb chorus. Ironically, the penultimate track "A Sense of Wonder" starts in a similar fashion to its predecessor, only this time the track does follow that instinctively obvious direction and disappointingly sticks to the formula throughout. After constructing such a varied and ambient landscape of sound over the previous songs on the EP, "A Sense of Wonder" stands out as being the eyesore on the horizon that slightly diminishes the overall effect.
The final song is a "Hidden Track" and has the effect of a child assuming its "cute-pouting face" after being berated for misbehaving. This is a beautifully emotive, acoustic short-song, leaving me feeling instantly guilty for criticizing the previous track in the manner that I did. It’s an appropriate end to an excellent record, as it leaves you reflecting on the message delivered by the final song and indeed the record as a whole.
Overall this is a fantastic EP that showcases a variety of styles, arranged in interesting ways, delivered by very competent musicians and excellent vocals. There are occasions where the band’s creativity can sometimes overwhelm the songs: in "The Seigheyffe’lone" the number of tangents seemed one too many and the introduction of a female vocalist towards the song’s finale was a very welcome and effective idea, but was over far too quickly and was not harvested to its full potential. I would like to hear the band refine their many great ideas to ensure that they maximise the effectiveness of their creativity and deliver an album that maintains a high standard throughout its entirety.
I am very excited to hear where Manhattan Roar take their art next and I’ll be keeping a keen eye on any updates regarding new material from this band. Hopefully I'm not the only one.
1. Astronaut God
2. Secure in Vain
3. Something Where Something Once Was
4. The Fabled Pink City
5. The Seigheyffe’lone
6. A Sense of Wonder (only slight used)
7. Hidden Track