Serena Maneesh are in a flurry of activity these days, following the release of the band’s debut album which has been greeted with a string of very strong domestic reviews. The aptly titled ‘Serena Maneesh’ was partly recorded in Steve Albini’s respected Electrical Audio Recordings studio in Chicago as well as in various facilities in New York and Oslo. Contributors to the album include Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile.
The band’s blistering performance at this year’s Øya Festival in Oslo caught the attention of several of the international journalists present at the festival. Influential and highly respected US music site Pitchforkmedia.com were instantly converted into Serena fans and have now followed up with a strong review of the band’s debut album. “This promising Norwegian band aims to re-define noise’s role in pop” states the site enthusiastically.
Strong Pitchfork review
Writes Pitchforkmedia.com’s Nick Sylvester on Serena Maneesh’s debut album: “Cocoa puffs, meh. The better story is rock's 50-year failure to make plain its furious soundmaker, the electric guitar. Sound is vibration, pure tone is farce, distortion is social, inevitable. No surprise, my faves who've struggled with that pop vs. noise, structure vs. unstructure windigo-- Branca, Hendrix, Velvets, Can, Sonic Youth, JAMC, MBV, Fennesz-- count for some of modern music's all-time greatest failures. Here's another one.
Norway's Serena Maneesh take the main stage at Oslo's Øya Music Festival dressed like gypsies. Band leader Emil Nikolaisen has a wispy moustache, Chick Corea-style, Jimi-worshipping. His half-sister on bass could ring for Nico, a cold, daunting figure from afar, no stage movements, noble and grand, somewhat melancholic. The other members I can't see. "What a fucking mission this band's on," I think. "What a terrible fucking band."
They tinker on stage with a hint of motorik for 20 minutes, then a stomp of it, no sign of stopping; people have no stomach for this diskaholic bullshit, and tuck out for chicken and beer and, I think, Roots Manuva. No cue, no looks, Nico snaps a bassline from the stew of guitar noise and disembodied voices, and suddenly Serena Maneesh are bars into the festival's first and only mindfuck-- the one I went several thousand miles hoping I might experience. Tucked deep within "Sapphire Eyes High" is the only melody that matters this fall, its chorus unintelligible because Nico's voice dissipates upon exit-- so too do the stringy jangle and generously amped kick. The breathy line goes for but 30 seconds, entirely too short, then dissolves back into the abstractions that birthed it. So much noise it takes to balance out so beautiful a moment.
They get it, Serena Maneesh, their demeanor electric and alternating, built off antagonistic relationships. The band, like the instrument, is apt to prove noise and un-noise are of one cut. To that end, these aren't 11 songs so much as 12 blood-riling arguments. "Un-Deux" jumps forth and back from sunshine pop to pork-pulled guitar noise, a clean but 30-mile-wide gap between the two, more impassible with each repetition. Two minutes, they give up. "Don't Come Down Here" takes a ho-hum strum and hopes that the one fissure in the progression-- a sloppy passing chord that butts with what's before and after it-- will, with enough repetitions, spiderweb and eat away the pleasantness. Nope. "Chorale Lick" and "Candlelighted" meander half their lengths, soft-focus guitars and brute syncopated grooves with nonsense floating in and about, shrouding melodies too shimmering for bare sight.
The album as a whole fights the twelfth, track sequence playing up each song's coaster-like turmoil. A subtle move, but it bleaches the whites, deepens the blacks-- rare chiaroscuro for rock's faint of art. Listen, those fuzzy guitar octaves that start the record could have led us anywhere-- so for-fun, so worry-free-- but instead we follow them into themselves, until this full-length debut implodes with 10 minutes of dizzying, even skronky frustration, then a shriek off the footbridge. Why are the stakes so high? Better question is, why not?”
From Southern blues via Neu! to Gershwin
Writes the band and record label in a press release following the release of Serena Maneesh’s already hailed debut album: 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 Holström 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.”
Serena Maneesh self-titled debut album is out now on Norwegian indie Honeymilk Records.