Thursday, January 18, 2007

The top 10 albums of 2006: No. 7

Serena Maneesh

The members of Norwegian band Serena Maneesh are metalworkers, melting down the rock 'n' roll elements of their predecessors and molding them into other fascinating creations.

You'll find pieces that could pass for Spiritualized, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Smashing Pumpkins and many more, but all bear the engraving of Emil Nikolaisen --- along with everybody else who hammered, filed, forged, cast and polished on Serena-Maneesh.

Guitarist and vocalist Nikolaisen recruited his sisters Elvira and Hilma for the project, as well as several friends, including Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile. At least six people recorded or mixed Serena-Maneesh, among them Greg Norman (at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studios) and Martin Bisi, who has produced Sonic Youth and The Dresden Dolls. Also, this took place in at least three countries.

All participants prove their worth over the course of 11 songs, many of which change direction midway through and exceed seven minutes.

Naturally, with so many venues and musicians and instruments and influences and egos at play, as well as the detours within songs, Serena-Maneesh can be a tricky album to follow. Distorted guitars and processed pianos add to the feeling of disorientation. "Selina's Melodie Fountain," the second song, contains faint crowd noise, though it apparently was not recorded live. The muted rumbling in the final two minutes of "Sapphire Eyes" could have been a field recording from the bottom of a swimming pool.

The Can-like rhythms of "Candlelighted" (a wink in the title, perhaps?) mesmerize while the guitars hallucinate, or get as close as guitars can get to such a thing. "Beehiver II" evokes the full-frontal thrash of Nirvana's "Aneurysm" and the fuzz-storm guitar of Dinosaur Jr. "Drain Cosmetics" is a dead ringer for The Jesus and Mary Chain. Even the Nordic cousin to Billy Corgan's tape-tearing scream circa "X.Y.U." shows up twice on the album.

Impressively, none of these songs clashes or overwhelms, even though several appear back to back. Good sequencing undoubtedly plays a role. "Her Name Is Suicide," with its hypnotic throb, soothes after "Beehiver II," and the quasi-ballad "Don't Come Down Here," which would be leaden if it appeared early in the album, is welcome after the spare closing of "Sapphire Eyes."

Nikolaisen, though, deserves the most credit: The frontman wrote and produced Serena-Maneesh.

As he surely knows, the tools and material get you only so far. The rest is talent and vision.


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