Released: June 2014
Stitched together using musicians from Kazakhstan, Japan, France, London and the US, rowdy quintet Manflu have been described as “explosive” and “the best new band in London”. They’ve also been labelled “art-rock”, a phrase contradictory yet somehow utterly relevant to this unleashed beast of an album that holds two muddied fingers up to the clean and tidy sounds so prevalent in modern guitar music.
It’s fairly common for new styles and trends to contrast with whatever came before them. In art, literature, fashion and music there’s always a sense of rebellion, of trying something completely different, with every new brand or movement of creativity to find popularity. Decades ago the conservative sounds of swing and jazz were swiftly replaced by high tempo raunchy rock ‘n’ roll. In the ‘90s dark and gloomy American grunge was tackled with ballsy and celebratory Britpop, whilst punk was a no-nonsense reaction to indulgent ‘70s rock. The last few years have seen guitar music become safe, twee and terribly middle class, and it looks like that’s about to change.
With polished acts such as Bastille, The 1975 and The Vaccines contributing to an airbrushed, squeaky clean version of rock music that sees lazy anthemic choruses and harmless lyrics with next to no meaning take over the airwaves, it was only a matter of time until rock ‘n’ roll came crashing through sounding rough and rebellious again. If the seductive hit records from Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age last year helped the guitar to rediscover its sexy side, it’s 2014’s gritty LPs from Warpaint and The Amazing Snakeheads that are converting that sensuality into something much darker. That’s where Manflu come in, finding success with their haphazard debut Joys of Life thanks to smatterings of all these modern indie classics and plenty of influences further afield.
TEK, the album’s epic final track of just less than ten minutes, very much epitomises Joys of Life as a record. It focuses on texture and impact rather than melody, its pounding rhythm and layer upon layer of noise sounding thrown together and chaotic despite its status as a finely constructed piece. The screeching vocals from Aza Shade are present throughout the whole record and frequently trick the listener into believing that this is messy punk rock, but the angriness behind her performances and those of the instrumentalist suggest more than just nonchalant mayhem. The eerily discordant Moaning Moaning recalls the stronger tracks from Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug whilst opener Wizard has the madness of the Sex Pistols with added intelligence thanks to Shade’s Karen O influenced performance.
In true punk fashion the album seldom relents, the intro to Holes implying a more mellow approach before the rolling snare and manic synth organ take over in a very noir track that works as a more rebellious Last Shadow Puppets number. Equally hysterical is later track Gaspar is an Onion, which deserves credit just for its name, and James Chance Coronary is a full-throttle tutorial in how to drag several conflicting rhythms and tones kicking and screaming into something that works.
The guitars are ridden with effects and the drums are heavy handed. The lyrics are insane yet resonant. The bass hammers through each song with ruthless pace and aggression and the synths gloss over each record, adding a touch of class without sacrificing that unvarnished sound that makes punk rock work. Joys of Life is to be played at high volume and will sound incredible live. It presents raw, unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll that would horrify any modern top-button-up indie fan and in a defiant and mischievous way that feels so refreshing.