erasing clouds

Manishevitz, City Life

reviewed by ben rubenstein

Alright, I'll admit it. I was interested in reviewing this album for one reason and one reason only: how many times, as a young Jewish person, do you come across a band with the same name as the premier wine served at Passover Seders and Bar Mitzvahs nationwide? The name Manishevitz brings back memories of stale Matzah, sickly sweet hangovers, and…post-punk? For this band from Indiana (?), it's all about fake British accents, a lot of posturing, and jumpy, overly cool musicianship that recalls Wire and, more recently, The Walkmen and Interpol. As much as these would-be Judaic heroes manage to capture the essence of post-punk, with angular guitar riffs and moody, atmospheric swirls of sound, City Life is missing something that made the aforementioned bands successful. Everything sounds pretty tame; the frenetic unpredictability of Wire and other minimalist punk bands was the very thing that made each second of every song riveting. Here, the songs drag a little, as if they were stretched to make them more palatable to the general public. It feels like the group is settling into its sound, rather than taking the music in new, exciting directions. Manishevitz is at its best when it lets go of the drawn-out moodiness of "Undercover" and "Hate Ilene" and focuses on the energy that can be produced by a few simple guitar riffs. "Mary Ann" is a perfect example of this: strong guitar and upbeat vocals punctuated by some well-placed saxophone bursts create a short blast of excitement in the album's landscape. "Private Lines" also rolls right along, nearly creating the anthemic feel that many of The Walkmen's songs portrayed so well, and the band manages to make it interesting for 3 or 4 minutes; unfortunately, the song goes on for six.

One of the things that weighs the album down is the dark, almost depressive lyricism. Lead singer Adam Busch trudges through his vocals with a melancholy attitude, but he doesn't quite capture the narcotic style of Ian Curtis or Daniel Kessler (of Interpol). Instead, it seems somewhat forced, especially when Busch sings lyrics like "But you've got/What you have/And you have/What you've got/This time we've got to believe". There isn't too much complexity here, and the lack of depth is not offset enough by the music to make for a satisfying package.

Thankfully, Manishevitz didn't leave me with a stomachache and a bad taste in my mouth like many a Passover Seder, but it also didn't leave me with anything else. Next time, I'll just take the wine.


Issue 22, April 2004

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