Serena-Maneesh S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor

[4AD; 2010]

Styles: shoegaze, pop
Others: Primal Scream, Raveonettes, Warlocks

Five years after their self-titled debut, Serena-Maneesh finally return with a follow-up on the venerable 4AD. But five years is an admittedly long time to wait for new material, especially for an up-and-coming band. And even though last year saw the release of SM Backwards, a spotty odds-and-ends/remix comp, most of the source material was dated from even before their first full-length. Unfortunately, the benefit of time didn’t encourage Serena-Maneesh to record a gargantuan Loveless-style follow-up to its Isn’t Anything-aping first album. Instead, the brief S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor is a jumbled mess of various styles and poor production choices that threatens the reputation of what once appeared to be a formidable rock unit.

From the outset, Serena-Maneesh sound confused on S-M 2. Album opener “Ayisha Abyss” sounds like a far-less effective rewrite of Primal Scream’s excellent “Kill All Hippies.” Its distorted bass line squirms and writhes for nearly eight minutes, with no more vocals than some faint moans panning back and forth in the stereo field. By the time the album’s first pop song, “I Just Want To See Your Face,” kicks things into a higher gear, it becomes clear that their very modus operandi has shifted: the cooing vocals have been brought up to an uncomfortably high level in the mix, while the wall of synth and effects pedals dwarf any discernible guitarwork. The production seems to suggest that Hilma Nikolaisen’s vocals are of utmost importance here, but the group ends up sounding like The Raveonettes.

The rest of the album doesn’t bode well either. “Reprobate!” might be the strongest track on the album, but it still lacks any of the heft of even the least enjoyable songs from their debut. (It’s also really short.) “Blow Yr Brains In The Morning Rain” gets the privilege of both having the worst title on S-M 2 and being totally unremarkable. It passes by on slightly swirly, psychedelic guitars, the likes of which even Warlocks have done better recently. “Honeyjinx” and “D.I.W.S.W.T.T.D.” try a little harder, but even these tracks still sound like second-rate ripoffs of Loveless B-sides (particularly “Honey Power” and “Moon Song”).

I’m all about brevity when it’s effective, but S-M 2’s patchiness makes its 38-minute length feel much longer. The record isn’t unlistenable or even awful, but it’s filled with lackluster songwriting, ripe with pastiche, and drenched in a wall of effects that do nothing to mask these flaws. Guitarist Emil Nikolaisen recently described S-M 2 as a “rock’n’roll chamber of magic.” Unfortunately there’s nothing rock ‘n’ roll or magic here, just an empty chamber filled with half-formed ideas.

Links: Serena-Maneesh - 4AD

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