The Kingsbury Manx - "Over the Oeuvre" (Ascenseur Ouvert!)
While it arrives a long four years after their last album, The Fast Rise and Fall of the South, The Kingsbury Manx’s Ascenseur Ouvert! (that’s French for “elevator open!”) finds the band’s sound more or less unchanged. As usual, the Manx aren’t out to make grand artistic gestures, but rather deal in nuance and subtlety. While change may not be on the agenda, the fine-tuning and perfection of the sound established on South certainly is.
Frontman and main songwriter Bill Taylor here turns in another batch of consistent tunes and lyrics, but as usual, it’s the band’s rich arrangements and attention to texture that really shine. Keyboardist Paul Finn moves to the forefront here, as electric piano and organ take on a more prominent role than ever before. The band also adds a wide array of synths to the mix for the first time, most effectively on the atypically poppy “Over the Oeuvre.” Taylor, meanwhile, seems to have rediscovered his love of the electric guitar after the largely acoustic South. he turns in an unusually large number of polished solos here and revels in thick reverb and effects pedals to a degree unseen since the band’s 2000 debut. While the apparent fetishism for vintage equipment and effect (note the detailed information about keyboards in the liner notes) might result in gratuitous ornamentalism in the hands of other bands, the Manx always deploy their instrumental arsenal at just the right moment, taking care to situate even their most baroque moments within the context of a song’s individual dynamics. The rich mellotron and banjo passages in “Black and Tan” play like thoughtful rejoinders to the verses, the wordless vocals and strings on “Minos Maze” stand in perfect counterpoint to the skeletal guitars that precede them, and Taylor’s elegant solo on “Galloping Ghosts” serves as the perfect emotional climax to what is perhaps the album’s loveliest track. The band’s run through a wide array of different keyboards and bass and guitar tones attests not to a distracted preoccupation with equipment or need for constant novelty, but rather an intent focus on achieving just the right texture, and Ascenseur Ouvert is indeed, sonically speaking, one of the best-sounding rock albums in recent memory.
While Taylor may act as frontman (he sings lead on all but two tracks, where he hands the reins over to the slightly less-assured Ryan Richardson), Ascenseur Ouvert! bears the signs of a true group effort. The Manx not only share songwriting credits collectively, but also switch off on instruments throughout. The tight cohesion and polished interplay between the four Manx make Ascenseur another fine album from an uncommonly consistent band.