Today the Kingsbury Manx, a band from Chapel Hill, NC that have been around now for over a dozen years, release Bronze Age, their sixth album. Listening to Bronze Age for me is a little like going back in time, and like coming home, for a couple of reasons. I bought their first album (first on CD, then on vinyl) when it was released, and saw them live, in 2000. It was just so impressive, from tunes to words to cover art, a baroque folk rock effort with a vibe that can only come from a certain protectiveness of sound — this was a local band with a ton of creativity and a unique, wholly-formed voice who knew how to use it. For me they were a sort of an end, and among the greatest, of a continuum of North Carolina bands I had familiarized myself over the previous seven years, and a distillation of some of the best of 90s chamber pop. Every part was developed, and there were no weak links. Sean McCrossin, then owner of Chapel Hill’s best record shop, CD Alley, made me buy their first record because he knew my tastes (and, okay, because Ryan, Kingsbury Manx’s drummer worked at the shop, which he bought from Sean some years back and now sustains with the same completeness that Sean created).
I lost track of what was happening in the local scene after the Kingsbury Manx released their second album, which didn’t quite capture me in the same way as their debut. I got caught up, like one does at that age, in a blur of personal and professional development, had kids, moved away. Good things, but there’s a losing of touch. And some things that I may not have realized were as essential as they turned out to be — vinyl LPs for instance, with beautiful cover art — return to focus with reminders like unpacking the LPs upon moving back, and listening to new records like Bronze Age.
For maintaining the imprint of its own style throughout, this album, like the Manx’s debut, covers a remarkably broad territory of sound and feeling, ranging from a kind of Grateful Dead loose-ness on “Handsprings” to the majestic, motorik psych pulse of “Custer’s Last”, which calls to mind the Dusseldorf bands of the 1970s. There is a slight nod to early Pink Floyd here and there, but not an over-reliance and more as an acknowledgement from the American South. Guitarist Bill Taylor’s relaxed voice and words, and Paul Finn’s keyboard work (with heavy doses of Farfisa, but not used as you might expect) are dominant, with guitar and bass coloring and filling the songs more than guiding them. I mentioned Ryan Richardson, the drummer. His work is astounding, restrained — not merely timekeeping and not fussy or busy either, but riding the tune and at times turning its direction.
The lyrics are oblique vignettes, working like a stack of a disarranged photographs rather than as narrative — and this is not to cheapen them or do them an injustice, because while songs resist forced poetry, the writing here molds itself to the song, and achieves a necessary structure complementing words and sound.
I’ve listened to this record through three times now, and, believe me, it’s a gift.
Band website: http://kingsburymanx.com/
Order via the usual outlets or here: http://www.odessarecords.com/artists/manx/