I will probably expand on all this in a future venue, about which you'll be hearing more in the new year, maybe, but for now let me give you the capsule view. Around '98 or '99 I played a show in The Hague and I met up with a dude name of Adam Busch from a band called Manishevitz, who at the time were on a label called Jagjaguwar. He played a set in a tent, as most of us did that week, and his set was quite odd - he sang in a sort of strangled voice and played these weblike runs on his acoustic guitar that lingered in my brain for a long time. I didn't love what he did, but I was pretty intrigued, and I took his band's album, Grammar Bell & the All Fall Down, home with me from Holland.
I listened to it a fair bit. I did not love it the way you love an album, but I contemplated it the way you might regard music from a culture about which you knew nothing. That's how odd this dude's schtick was; that's how different, how not-like other stuff. I checked what other people had to say about Manishevitz, and everything suggested that nobody knew quite what to make of it; it sounded like most people were repeating points from a one-sheet, either favorably or unfavorably. I grew to really love two songs on the record ("Grammar Bell Rings" and "Lonesome Cowboy Dave Thomas"), and when Jagjaguwar sent me their second album, Rollover, I received it with interest. But I couldn't get my head around it. Busch was changing his vocal delivery, adopting a very heavily affected schtick that was clearly going to take some getting used to.
I didn't get used to it on that record; should I find it somewhere here in the stacks, I'd be interested to see what I might think of it now. What I do know is that the next full-length they released was City Life, a fully-realized, tightly written, all-officers-present-and-reporting-for-duty reemergence. The burgeoning vocal affectations of Rollover now sounded real, almost natural, and while they still required the listener to cut Busch a little slack in anticipation of the payoff, the payoff was undeniable, at least to my ears. Second guitarist Via Nuon was by this point a full-on assassin - his dropped-in leads & phrases sparkled, no joke, like Tom Verlaine on a mystic bender. The rest of the band was tight and seemed to understand the almost alien groove that was being set as the goal. Emails were exchanged and I took the band out on tour with me; they whipped the camel's ass with a belt every night.
Heard from Adam a few months back that there was new material in the works and I was pleased, because Manishevitz are the sort of band who often give up in the face of history. It's always a loss when an interesting, different band breaks up or stops making music because people don't get what they do. Someday, some guy on a forum somewhere is going to announce that he's been listening the the Manishevitz catalog and that it's surprisingly solid, and the other guys on the forum will investigate and concur with that guy's conclusions. This inevitable event will be well-deserved. It's always depressing, though, when such a rediscovery happens after it's already too late for the band in question to hit the clubs and show interested listeners just what they're capable of doing.
I've got the new Manishevitz album playing in the living room right now, for the fifth time this week; it is, to date, their masterpiece. The vocals still leap and dip unabashedly - the nearest comparison to my ears is David Thomas, but Busch's voice has more depth, less squall. Nuon remains one of the most undersung guitarists in the indie-rock miniverse; nobody really plays like he does, as far as I know, which isn't to say that his sound is cut from whole cloth. Rather, it's that he makes interesting and creative use of a wide-ranging set of influences, which is of course how all good musicians do it. The sax lines - sax lines! - hit precisely the right pocket, menacing and painterly, especially on the album-closing "Eiji," which continues the proud indie rock tradition of unparseable song titles. Everybody sounds locked-in.
It's just an excitingly good album from a band who's still plugging away, and probably feeling like they're banging their heads against a wall a lot of the time. Well, guys: Last Plane to Jakarta appreciates it. Nobody else is really doing what you do. At the end of the day, that counts for something.
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