SXSW records

Phases and Stages


Music Is Useless Imagine if Jets to Brazil listened to more Tool. That's a useless way to describe what Manatee approximates on Music Is Useless, the young Austin fourpiece's first album. Sure, you could call it emo, since there are plenty of stop-start dynamics, hyperpersonal lyrics, and the occasional scream-therapy chorus. The lead singer's name is even Chris Vanlandingham. But Manatee has more on its minds than setting their Web diaries to music -- they also like to rock, if you don't mind. "Torn Away" gallops out of the chute like Judas Priest, and "Saturday Morning" even contains a whiff of power ballad. Mostly, the songs come in tightly compressed bursts of white-knuckle art-punk, with long passages of merry-go-round arpeggios over apologetic basslines, and lots of cutaways to Vanlandingham a cappella. Sometimes the abrupt changes can be jarring, like when "Little Sister" jumps between the Cure and Jimmy Eat World, but more often, the different sections work like chapters in a story, as on the cello-assisted "Phone Call to Dad, 1am." "Six" is a peculiar piece of prog structured around Austin Orand's lumbering bass, but the Zeppelinesque climax of "Nebutol" is well worth the payoff, and "Someone Else" only has one speed: Gonzalez. "We will make mistakes, and we will pay for them," Vanlandingham sings on stout opener "A Sound to Spite the Silence." If they continue growing into their sound, Manatee may not make too many. (Back Room, Wednesday, 9pm)


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