West coast rock with a wide range of musical flavours.
Following on from their warmly received 2019 debut album ‘Room for Complication’, Manuel The Band return with “Things That Can’t Be Seen”, offering up a wide range of styles, influences, and instrumentations within the ten tracks.
Opening track ‘Without Me’, finds frontman and songwriter Manuel Grajeda singing of the difficulties of relationships and commitment accompanied by a wonderful horn section by Matt Kalin on saxophone and Richard Fernandez on trombone, inhabiting a familiar west coast vibe, with a catchy chorus ideal for FM airwaves. This is followed by ‘Hearing Love Songs’, a slower number that threatens to build to a crescendo but always just holds back.
However things really shift a gear with the third track, ‘Hell Yeah Everyday’, which opens with some lovely bright distorted guitar chords, and has a great key change leading into an infectious chorus. On top of this there is some fantastic pedal steel from George Madrid, joined towards the end of the track by the horns which give this a wonderful unique sound.
Track four ‘Love But Don’t Need You’, returns to a slower pace with a tasteful saxophone solo from Kalin towards the end, and is followed by ‘So Cold’, in a similar vain, which at this tempo remind me of Matchbox Twenty.
Track six, ‘Watch it Burn’, up’s the pace again as Grajedas singing takes on a more sinister tone as the song builds from a staccato opening to some smouldering guitar playing, joined towards the end by the horns that help to elevate and increase the tension that leaves you wanting more.
The following tracks ‘Stolen Me’, and ‘Post College’, slow the pace down again and though have pleasant chorus’s they lack any hook line to keep the listener focussed. Things pick up with ‘Can You Give it To Me’, which opens with a catchy guitar riff, while Grajeda sings “I’m going say some things you don’t want to hear”, managing to create a edgier, less safe, feel than on other tracks, while again a splash of colour from the horns help carry the song to the gentle guitar picking of the final chords.
The album closer ‘Me and My Mind’, is typical of some of the slower tracks, though it dose build to a nice crescendo with the horns again heard to good effect.
As an album, ‘Things That Can’t Be Seen’, is a bit of a conundrum. It’s clear it’s influences are broad, the mix of instrumentation at times inspiring, and in many ways this diversity gives the album its strength and charm. Tracks such as ‘Hell Yeah Everyday’ and ‘Watch it Burn’, epitomise everything that’s good about this album. However, that diversity can also give the sense of a lack of direction or identity, and occasionally there’s a feeling they’ve played things a little safe instead of fully committing to the cause. More use of the pedal steel with the horns would help to cement that identity and suggest a statement of intent, rather than just a token gesture.
There is plenty to enjoy on ‘Things That Can’t Be Seen’, and plenty to build on, and I look forward to hearing how Manuel The Band develop their sound in the coming years.