by Todd Manning
The name Efrim Manuel Manuck should be familiar to anyone who has fallen down the rabbit hole of Montreal’s powerful indie rock scene. As a founding member of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Manuck has already left an indelible mark on avant-garde rock music. He is now poised to release his second solo album via Constellation Records. Pissing Stars is an audio diary of his obsession with the strange public romance of television personality Mary Hart and Mohammad Khashoggi, son of a famous Saudi arms dealer.
Pissing Stars constitutes another unique addition to Manuck’s legacy. While the aforementioned ensembles combined rock instrumentation with more classically aligned instruments and symphonic orchestration, this album draws more from a noise- and drone-oriented sound palette, yet the layered, symphonic compositional approach remains intact. The material is at once grand yet deeply personal.
Perhaps the key to unlocking the modus operandi on Pissing Stars can be discerned from the first half of the title of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra’s third full-length, “This is our Punk Rock” The Rusted Satellites Gather+Sing. Essentially, Manuck and his compatriots are applying techniques culled from the Western classical tradition and applying them however they see fit in order to construct their own idiosyncratic take on punk. The harsher sonic qualities Manuck employs may disguise the musical underpinnings on Pissing Stars, but the expert use of dynamics and the compositional ebb and flow of the material is unmistakable. Layers of noise are used to form a rich harmonic bed for the plaintive vocal work while subtle rhythms pulse underneath.
The effect as a whole is not unlike a fever dream, a meditation on the words and images that made up Efrim Manuel Manuck’s engagement with the romance of the two unlikely lovers. He states that he was homeless at the time, “living in a flooded basement with two other lost kids and a litter of lost kittens,” and as listeners, we are invited to try and imagine him in this setting, reading about Hart and Khashoggi. And maybe Pissing Stars might not be about the couple at all, but about Manuck’s ruminations about them. It’s hard to say for sure, but this sort of ambiguity goes hand in hand with the intimate, if not somewhat blurred atmosphere of Pissing Stars, and may even be reflected in the musical elements working simultaneously. If Manuck was a young squatter punk dreaming of an international pair of rich and famous lovers, perhaps this is a punk record dreaming of the world of modern composition, two worlds far apart being pulled together.
Stream “A Lamb in the Land of Payday Loans”: