by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Serena-Maneesh: From the Abyss
Serena-Maneesh uncovers layers of sound.
Norwegian noise-pop band Serena-Maneesh dug deep for its latest album, literally.
For Serena-Maneesh 2: Abyss in B Minor, released this past March on 4AD Records, mastermind Emil Nikolaisen recorded tracks in a cave located outside of Oslo, Norway.
“It was an interesting journey, at times rough, at times inspiring,” said Nikolaisen via cell during a sound check at a concert hall in Harleem, The Netherlands, where the band performed last Sunday night. “I wanted to put myself and my collaborators in an interesting new spot with new sounds and find new universes where there were no preconceptions of any kind, like a little kid trying to find new spaces in the world to discover.”
But don’t go listening to the album expecting echoing, cavernous noises. Instead, Serena-Maneesh music is an odyssey of beats and dense, layered noise that covers — and then slowly uncovers — melody upon melody. There are moments on the nearly 8-minute opening track, “Ayisha Abyss,” where the intensity of sound is so overwhelming that you’ll feel like you’re stumbling through utter darkness, finding your way by touching the wall with your fingertips, lost in a maze of noise and whispers.
Even the album’s poppier moments, like the soaring “I Just Want to See Your Face,” glisten through layers of guitar sheen, snare drum and cacophony. What you’ll hear the first time through isn’t necessary what you’re going to hear the next time you listen, and that’s just the way Nikolaisen wants it.
“It’s like when you hear a band next door in the basement or behind walls — when you open the door and enter the room, the music reveals itself in a more… boring way,” he said. “You thought it was more mystical or intriguing when you didn’t hear it so clearly. I try to apply that principal to what I’m doing — so that the more you zoom in, the more the mysteries of the chords and the overtones and the new harmonies appear.”
The band’s style of revealing melody beneath countless layers of noise often brings comparisons to shoe-gaze masters My Bloody Valentine. Nikolaisen acknowledged that he loves MBV frontman Kevin Shields’ pop songs. “I grew up on a lot of stuff that’s clearly in the music that I’ve been pushing,” Nikolaisen said. “There was a time when no one was talking about My Bloody Valentine and these bands, and we were doing it. And suddenly, there’s a lot of these types of bands popping up here and there.”
But there’s more to Serena-Maneesh’s music than MBV comparisons. Nikolaisen said that through his music, he’s trying to find a place where “symphony and Stooges meet.”
“On one side, I love rock, and on the other side, I love symphonies,” he said. “If you can integrate the mysterious, subconscious sounds of strings into something that’s more immediate, that’s a really valuable thing. The idea is that the 10th time you hear it, you still feel like you’re on an interesting journey, you’re still hearing new sounds and (discovering) things that are not exposed right away. That’s the journey that I’ve spent many years of my life trying to refine.”
Joining him on that journey has been a number of collaborators, including American indie icon Sufjan Stevens, who played vibraphone, flute and piano on the new album. “I get sick of myself and my own ideas,” Nikolaisen said about his collaborations. “You might be able to play everything yourself, but I’m depending on other people for perspective — different souls gathering on many different levels.”
And while Serena-Maneesh has toured Europe and Australia with bands that include Oasis, Nine Inch Nails and The Dandy Warhols, Nikolaisen said Nebraska has an exotic quality of its own. “To us, Nebraska is extremely exotic,” he said. “I have these portraits in my mind of Nebraska that I’ve seen from childhood. I wonder if it’s translatable to the people there. Are they really any different from iconic New York or European minds, or are they fully redneck or fully California sunshine?”
He’ll find out next Sunday when his five-piece band rolls into The Waiting Room to open for Wovenhand. Nikolaisen said fans should expect them to “push the melodic perspective in a really loud context.”
“(The concert) is almost a physical experience with pristine melodies carved through,” he said. “Our songs need to be translated slightly different than on the recording, so we’re not just repeating or imitating it. It’s really important to give listeners a new perspective on the songs and the story. We keep it elastic in a way that’s really meant for the moment, and try to portray something different every night.”
Serena-Maneesh plays with Wovenhand Sunday, Sept. 26, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $12. For more information, call 402.884.5353 or visit waitingroomlounge.com.
* * *
Suckers last night at The Waiting Room: There’s just something about Frenchkiss bands. They’re always entertaining. And they all seem to have a head spazz that anchors the onstage antics, provides the energy and gives the audience something to look at while quietly pondering such things as “What’s wrong with that man?” “Are those jerky movements a side-effect to whatever drug he’s taking?” “Is he dangerous?” And so on. The spazz in The Suckers was a headband-wearing beardo on lead guitar and primary vocals who switched between a pained howl and a classic Prince falsetto throughout these hazy, hash-fueled art-damaged tunes that owed a lot to Talking Heads — both early noisy and later dancey Heads. In fact, countering the grinning headband was a stand-up-straight second guitarist whose rigid stance and lilting voice reminded me of David Byrne. The band was filled out by a bass player/percussionist/trumpet player and a drummer/keyboardist (like Box Elder’s Goldberg, there were moments when he played both at the same time), and everyone provided harmonies, which was sweet. And when headband guy just plain sung, he was dynamite — he had an earthy growl that felt good to hear, especially on their last song. I will be searching out their music in the very near future.
Menomena had a fourth member with them last night, apparently a guy from the opening band that I missed. They sounded more mainstream — more smoothed out and fluid — then I remembered them from a couple years ago. The entire set seemed less arty, or maybe I was still buzzing from Suckers, who were just flat-out more entertaining (and had better songs). There was nothing wrong with Menomena, they were just kind of boring. That said, they broke through to me every time their lead guy picked up that Bari sax and crushed out a melody. Otherwise, the music was dominated by their rhythm section (quite a contrast from the previous night, when neither band even had a bass player). The bass and drum were huge, which is enough to carry you through the first 10 minutes, but becomes one-dimensional thereafter.
Last night’s crowd was twice the size of the crowd there Tuesday for School of Seven Bells. Maybe 200? The draw might have had something to do with Menomena having the No. 8 album on the college charts, according to the latest issue of Rolling Stone. More likely it might have something to do with being around for so many years. Still, I was told that last night’s Menomena show drew a few less people then when the band came through two years ago — when they didn’t even have a charting album. Add the fact that ground breakers School of Seven Bells drew less than 100 and you have to wonder what’s going on. Maybe it’s the lack of radio. Or maybe Omaha isn’t as hip as it thinks it is.
* * *
Tonight at Slowdown Jr. it’s Saddle Creek Records band Land of Talk with Montreal band Suuns (formerly Zeroes). Sayeth Chicagoist: “Much like ‘70s bands Can and Suicide, the heartbeat of the Suuns’ music thumps out in pulses of electro-synth that rolled in the dirt with a few Fenders.” Having listened to their new album, I concur. Get there early for Omaha’s own drone adventurists Conduits (Jenna Morrison, Roger Lewis members of Eagle Seagull). $10, 9 p.m.
* * *
Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.