The theme of Manuok’s newest album is “ghosts, change, and traps,” says multi-instrumentalist and frontman Scott Mercado, whose résumé includes a foundational role in post-rock trio Via Satellite and recording/touring stints with Black Heart Procession, the Album Leaf, Tristeza, Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects, and Ilya.
So, perhaps it’s no coincidence that Traps departs from the ethereal indie-folk sound that guided the band’s previous three albums (and landed their rendition of “Untitled 1” at the top of a band-endorsed list of Sigur Rós covers) to instead find a more urgent, disconcerted tone that draws lyrical parallels between Mercado’s personal tribulations and a lurking dystopian paranoia.
“In broad terms, I wrote about how the ghosts of our past get in the way of our future — how we trap ourselves,” says Mercado. “More specifically, or song to song, I cover this in terms of politics, fear of life change, relationships, death, and capitalism.”
The struggle to embrace change and thwart recurrence is evident in the evolution of Manuok (pronounced “man-you-okay”) from a solo project begun in 2004 by Mercado into a collaborative band effort.
“On previous records, I wrote and recorded almost everything by myself,” Mercado says. “After the album was released, the band would then take the songs and make new versions. On the new album, most of the songs were played live first and recorded last. As a result, the recordings are real close to what you’ll hear live. Additionally, the guys helped arrange songs, wrote parts, and so much more. The result is the combination of all our old bands, influences, and tastes. As it turns out, every single one of us has hardcore, punk, or rock roots. So — bang! — a rock album.”
As such, you may hear evidence of bassist Erik Berg and keys/vibesman Jeff Grasmick’s time with rock outfit Rochelle, Rochelle, or drummer Geoff Hill’s chops with Ilya and cinematic instrumental nine-piece KATA, with whom guitarist Andrew Trecha performed as a visual artist.
In Traps’ opening single, “Count on Us,” Mercado appears to take on the first-person voice of his tyrannical doubts and, in doing so, invokes a candidness that carries on through “Sinking In” with the self-aware warning, “I’ve been this way before, so careful where you go/ I’ve felt this way before, so careful who you know,” and on to “Buried in the Sand,” which kicks off with the caveat, “Be careful when you talk to others.”
From the melancholy lament of “NC” to the howling closer “Some Voices,” Traps rings with a probing ferocity that Mercado likens to aspects of Helmet, Failure, and Led Zeppelin.
That really doesn’t describe it, however. The album is too mercurial, paradoxically embodying the changes that it supposes to dread.
Between jangly indie-pop verses, fuzzed-out bridges nodding toward dream-noise supergroup Astrobrite, and straight-ahead rock breakdowns (think Radiohead’s more wrathful moods), one is tempted to place Manuok in a well-deserved genre all their own: like, say, post-folk bootgaze.
Whatever you end up calling it, Traps — written and recorded in and out of European and domestic tours — solidifies why Manuok (which was listed as a best new band name in Dave Eggers’s “The Best American Nonrequired Reading”) has been the most frequently cited favorite of fellow artists in Jay Allen Sanford’s musician interviews, accruing over a dozen shout-outs from contemporaries including Sven-Erik Seaholm, Marie Haddad, Drew Andrews, Michael Tiernan, Bart Mendoza, and Marcia Claire.
Already out on Japan’s Kilk Records, Traps drops September 15 via Bay Area–based 500 Records and Macaco Records (Italy).
Fall into the trap on September 14 at the Tin Can Ale House with a San Diego Music Thing party featuring Via Satellite partner Drew Andrews, alt-country outlaws River City, and the Palace Ballroom.
Five bucks. Change welcome. ■