The Underground: Mana – Time Columns

Welcome to The Underground (or Notes from the Underground if you’re a Dostoyevsky nerd), a weekly segment in which I examine the very best in unsigned, undiscovered and underground music. It’s my goal to highlight and hopefully promote talented artists who have yet to receive the attention they deserve. If you know of (or are!) a band/artist you think should be featured on The Underground, please give them a shout out in the comments below, or alternatively you can tweet me their info @AnOrangeFellow.

Those of you familiar with The Underground will know I have a deep love for the avant-garde. I adore music that energetically ignores musical conventions and genre or embraces its own strangeness and I revel when an album just feels chaotic. Not to undersell the obvious effort it must take to fashion this kind of music, but I do also love when the experimental is also met with more discipline. Mana by Time Columns is a bizarre, gutsy, beautiful and downright masterfully crafted album.

Now that’s a funny word; beautiful. For whatever reason, I seldom find myself describing music that way. To me it always feels somewhat disingenuous – like a word you would go to when you couldn’t think of a descriptive for “filled with crescendos” or “features sad piano”. So it really is odd that I think Mana is a genuinely beautiful album. It never once claws at your heartstrings, it doesn’t construct an emotional tower over its seven tracks, or even appeal to the prettyness of background tones. Instead, Mana features crazy sound effects, frantic guitar, unexpected vocal harmonies, impressive musicianship and long, bold tracks. And I honestly don’t think I’ve written on a downright prettier album on The Underground this year.

And when I say the songs on Mana are long, I mean it, with the average song length being around seven and a half minutes. However, the songs never stagnate. They’re always moving towards something, and while not necessarily escalating, the songs are never regressing, or even static. It’s also a welcome surprise that, amidst this great momentum there’s also great restrain. In the very middle of the album, between long stretches of mad (but always apt) sampling and speedy drumming, Mana places a short, two minute acoustic track titled “Lole’s Song”. It’s very sweet, and far more mellow than any other track on the album, and in a way it almost holds everything together. It’s the exact break the album requires, and goes on for the exact right amount of time to move back into the style of music that dominates the album.

Style of music? Well, that’s actually up in the air. There’s so much damn variance on Mana it’s an outright treat to listen to. It keeps surprising you, from the soft waves-progressing-to-noise of the opening track, to the drop of “Lole’s Song” to deciding to introduce singing on the penultimate track. It really is a unique, beautiful album that absolutely shines amidst a sea of unsuccessful underground post-rock, avant-garde and experimental music. Count this one as a serious landmark on our long, strange journey riding The Underground.

Listen to and purchase (for only five bucks!) Mana here.

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