Norwegian Serena Maneesh present their self-titled, full-length debut Serena Maneesh with eleven songs that slide down a razor’s edge of distortion and pop whimsy, raucous guitar work and underwater static, angelic voices and primal screams. The strange melodies are strikingly original, yet they strike to the heart of something familiar: a classic rock guitar lick, a wound, a kiss.
Inspired by everything from Southern blues via Neu! to Gershwin, “Serena Maneesh” is as much about exploring sound as crafting song. Working in both horizontal and vertical layers, head musician Emil Nikolaisen creates tuneful paradoxes, infinite yet time-bound. His meticulous compositions balance whispery female vocals and underlying violin with driving guitar rock, distorted samples, and chant-like repetition. Tracks such as “Sapphire Eyes” begin and end in liquid noise; in between guitars shriek and shatter, angels sing, and a snare beats along in cinque-pace time.
Serena Maneesh was completed in half a year in various cities such as Chicago, (at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio), Oslo, New York City and Stockholm. For the album, mixed by, among others, Martin Bisi (Swans, Sonic Youth), Nikolaisen employed several of his sisters (Elvira and Hilma), friends (Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile), and solid Serena musicians Lina Holmström on female vocals, Eivind Schou on violin, Sondre Tristan Midttun on guitar, and Tommy Akerholdt on drums, among others.
On Serena Maneesh songs are written not in Norwegian but in English—the lyrics take liberties with structure and image, and fully tilt the listener upside down. Opening rocker, “Drain Cosmetics” expresses a longing for freedom from superficiality, and Nikolaisen interchanges verbs and nouns like glass beads on a choker. “Touch my lips to speak again/ Broken six-string ring again,” he sings. On “Chorale Lick” he sings of being, “stripped naked like that lonely fall.” But it’s not all elevated soul searching – Serena Maneesh takes herself to the social ills of the street with scathing commentaries on the post-modern malaise.
Yet Serena’s strange interiority is increasingly exposed on the album’s journey through the beautiful and the grotesque, the broken and the restored. Intonating a mystery and a grace, a feminine reflection emerges through eleven tracks of lush pop and lonely distortion. In the refraction of this image, the shrieks of the last track of Serena Maneesh—“Your Blood in Mine”—yield to the hushed, hymn-like tones of a piano. The pianist has forgotten himself, playing alone in a cathedral to a half-remembered song; alone but for the saints shifting in their tombs and the angels swinging by their fingertips from the ceiling chandelier.
courtesy of Melissa Riches