erasing clouds

Manual, Azure Vista

reviewed by dave heaton

To me Azure Vista, the new album from Danish electronic musician Manual (aka Jonas Munk), has one of the most perfect album covers. A photograph of a California beach at twilight, awash in gorgeous hazy light. It's paradise, the sort of album cover that makes you want to hear the album, and makes you hope that the album sounds just like that, that it sounds just like paradise.

With the cover Manual's not just setting us up for disappointment, however – the music does sound just like paradise, right from the start. The opening track, "Clear Skies Above the Coastline Cathedral," is an absolutely stunning cloud of dreamy sound that's also a song, with guitars playing melodies that are lightly progressing and a female vocalist who is gently, almost invisibly singing somewhere in the mix.

Think of My Bloody Valentine, but lighter than air. Or think of what Air's soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides might have been like if they spent more time at the beach. Or think about Brian Eno, if he surfed and liked drinks with exotic names and umbrellas in them. Think about Tangerine Dream: their name even more than their sound. Think about the "shoegazers" gazing at a brillant blue ocean and jamming. Or think about that great wave of keyboards on the opening track of The Cure's Disintegration, but think of it not as an impending rainstorm but as a brilliant sun, a storm of sunbeams. Then think of all these things at once, and you've got a beautiful, awe-inducing force of nature. And I'm still only talking about the first track…

Azure Vista is lighter in tone than Manual's recent collaborative albums with Jess Kehr (The North Shore) and Syntaks (Golden Sun), but is also more immediate in feeling, more raw and to-the-point. That has something to do with the mix of massive waves of synthesizers with rock guitars, being played in unexpected ways.

Azure Vista is an impressive work of both songwriting and atmosphere-creating, though to think of those two tasks separately is a mistake. It's light-as-air music, one of the most blissed-out albums that Darla (creators of the Bliss Out Series) have released. Yet it also has weight, real feeling. Manual isn't just making big fuzzy balls of sound, he's weaving together textures and melodies in ways that stir up powerful emotions.


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