Tuesday, May 3, 2011

phil manley - life coach (2011)

01 FT2 Theme by philmanleylifecoach
04 Forest Opening Theme by philmanleylifecoach

Phil Manley
San Francisco, California, USA
Life Coach (Thrill Jockey, 2011)
RIYL: Edgar Froese, Arp

Given today's news about Phil Manley engineering the new album from SF krautsters Wooden Shjips, and the fact that I'm gonna be seeing Phil Manley play live tomorrow with Santa Cruz's best psychedelic detonators Mammatus, I thought I'd take a moment to consider the debut solo album from this noted local guitarist and producer.  Manley's longest running music project is Trans Am (he's also been a member of Oneida, The Fucking Champs, and most recently, Jonas Reinhardt), but in my opinion his work as an engineer tops his work as a musician- Alps, Arp, Mi Ami, Moon Duo and Wooden Shjips rank among my all-time favorite bands, and Manley has manned (heyyyyyy) the boards for all of them.  Now frankly I don't really know enough about the production side of music to be able to tell you exactly what it is that Manley brings to the albums that he produces, but the fact that he is involved in so many amazing recordings makes me think that he must be doing something special.  This is his first record under his own name, although I've seen this project referred to as "Phil Manley's Life Coach" or "Life Coach", rather than being an album titled "Life Coach" by Phil Manley.  Confusing, but at any rate, it is Manley's first solo affair, and it definitely follows the path that his both his production work and previous musical output have set.  Life Coach is a collection of propulsive kosmische stompers, patiently finger-picked guitar pieces, and humming drones.  While none of the tracks on here are standouts in their respective genres, they are all very competent and enjoyable and showcase Manley's adeptedness at a multitude of styles.  However, this impulse to work in a variety of genres is definitely this album's biggest weakness, because although individually each track here is worthwhile, the end result is a very scattered and unengaging album.  I suspect that these songs were not written specifically for this album, and I don't think the tracks are sequenced here in a way that works very well.  Because Phil Manley played the very first KUSF-in-Exile co-present a few months ago, and because his upcoming show with Mammatus is also a KUSF-in-Exile benefit, it made me think about what a perfect record this would have been for radio.  The choice of tracks in different styles, Manley's history in the local music scene, and the individual strength of each track would have doubtlessly made this a very successful album on the KUSF airwaves.  Had I first approached it from that angle- of playing a single track from it here and there- I might have had a much higher opinion of this album.  But taken as a whole, the quality of the individual songs is obscured by the unfocused presentation on the album, and the end result is an album that is promising and yet disappointing at the same time.  I'm looking forward to seeing how these songs play out in a live environment (and therefore hopefully in a different sequence), and hoping that any future full-length albums will be more cohesive. 

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