JG Thirlwell/Manorexia, The Mesopelagic Waters

Published on July 30th, 2010 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews, Underground/Cult |

By Ann Clarke

JG Thirlwell’s The Mesopelagic Waters was released on John Zorn’s Tzadik record label during the spring of 2010. This is the third installment of Thirlwell’s Manorexia project, but it’s not a block of new songs. It is, in essence, an acoustic re-arrangement scored for tactual instruments, performed by virtuosos. However, that’s easier said than done!

So if you were hoping to hear new songs on this album that weren’t on Volvox Turbo or The Radiolarian Ooze . . . that’s not going to happen, so nix that thought! So now, if you are thinking, “Why bother?” read on, and I’ll explain why you should!

Thirlwell had to do a little Aladdin Reverse-Engineering in order for this to work. He has said on more than one occasion, that he does not read music, which would lead me to assume that he didn’t just fill out tablature sheets, and pass them onto a player. That would be like writing a book in Chinese, but the writer didn’t know any Chinese, and expected an English speaker to understand it! There was more work involved here than just hiring a band to play his stuff.

manorexia mesopelagic waters

First off, Thirlwell’s music is composed in unconventional ways. He’s a master of sound manipulation, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty to get the desired effect! If that means doing a field recording of his toilet flushing all day long . . . he’d probably do it if that’s the sound he was going for! However, many sounds in his palette aren’t musical notes, and conventional instruments aren’t built to do that sort of thing! With that sort of confusing system to work with from the get-go, reinterpreting a library of unorthodox sounds that will be played for conventional instrumentation is going to be, in essence, doing just as much work as you did in the first place, but doing it backwards, plus having to translate it into a way that other people can understand it on a universal standard. This is not easy to do!

Another reason why this is an amazing album . . . if you never got to the chance to witness Manorexia performed live, this is the closest you are going to get to it! I’ve fortunately got the chance to see Manorexia live more than once, and it was fucking exquisite. (And for the record, I don’t even have an attention span that enjoys watching instrumental performances, as I get bored easily; I am a sucker for a singer.) The Manorexia shows are not boring! The audio frequencies emitted are often jarring and swirl about to the point where it almost sounds like ten songs within one song . . . and yet it’s done in a way where it doesn’t just drag on and on, but somehow blends seamlessly! If anything, it keeps you on your toes in a way a suspense drama would!

The collection of songs on The Mesopelagic Waters are some of the best from the first two Manorexia albums. In these new arrangements, they sound even more like a film score than they did before! All of the titled themes of the Manorexia albums have an oceanic use of terminology, and if you do listen to them consecutively, they evoke a subterranean/oceanic feel. (I wonder if Thirlwell has more mental connections to his birthplace of Australia than he realizes . . . maybe his heart is immersed in the Great Coral Reef, but won’t outright admit it! Hehehehe!)

The difference with The Mesopelagic Waters is that it is performed with an actual band, and the salt-water submersion has evaporated! Personally, I don’t get the feeling of fluidic depths when I listen to it. It sounds more like it has more of an elemental affinity with air, and instead of being below sea-level. . . it has more of an elevated sound (and I don’t mean “Rocky Mountain High,” either). It’s more of a vertigo-feeling, and vertigo is generally triggered by altitudes changes, movement, and a phobia of heights.

Instead of swimming along with schools of herring like I did with the Volvox and Radiolarians . . . I get the feeling of looking down a kaleidoscopic spiral staircase, and I’m suspicious that someone will push me! With natural instruments, The Mesopelagic Waters induces paranoia, and the only thing watery about it is the fear of possibly drowning.

The string arrangements also give it that ’70s suspense thriller feel. Think of the dramatic build-up to a plotted murder scene or the realization that a child is actually the spawn of Satan, and that’s the uneasy feeling you get from the strings! Yet, it’s beautiful at the same time. It’s also evocative of an Italian horror film, but instead of Goblin doing the score, you’ve got Thirlwell doing it! (It would also work well in a Korean Horror film taking place in an all girl’s school.)

My personal favorites on The Mesopelagic Waters are “Toxodon Mourning,” “Zithromax Jitters,” “Canaries In The Mineshaft,” “Tranque,” and of course, “Armadillo Stance.”

Was there anything I didn’t like about this album? Actually, yes. I didn’t care for the packaging. I nit-pick about typography because I’ve been trained to do so and the kerning and tracking on the cover are weak. I know it’s supposed to match the already established template of Tzadik’s Composer Series, and I do like and respect corporate identity, but this has nothing to draw the eye to take notice other than the image of a bacteria cell. Plus, greyish-silver printed on black NEVER prints well on an assembled scale unless you print black ink on foil paper, and that’s just too expensive to screw with!

Overall, however, The Mesopelagic Waters is excellent.

To order The Mesopelagic Waters, please visit the Foetus.org website.

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