Propulsive, motorik, euphoric and immaculately recorded, Alphawaves splices the super-clean, proggy aggression of Phil Manley’s main gigs (Trans Am, Fucking Champs) with the ecstatic repetition of side work in Oneida. Like much of Manley’s production work, the album sheathes Krautish gnosticism in a glossy technological perfection, somehow finding mystery in sounds that are surreally precise and clear.
Alphawaves is said to be inspired by Conny Plank, the sonic architect of German prog and krautrock who shaped sound for Kraftwerk, Neu!, Cluster (and Kluster), Harmonia and other Teutonic innovators. Certainly the title track has the lyrical translucence of certain Neu! tracks, as well as the dogged chug of Each One Teach One-era Oneida.
Manley played most but not all the instruments on this album. Jon Theodore, late of Mars Volta and currently with Queens of the Stone Age, kicks in rackety, rambunctious drums. He is a bit of anarchy slipped in between glossy synths and razory guitar riffs. Isaiah Mitchell, from Earthless and Golden Void, interjects a wild, shreddy solo into “Alphawaves” and ignites “Fireball” with the disc’s most blistering, distorted guitar riff. Yet mostly it’s Manley on a myriad of synths, keyboards, bass and guitars.
The disc starts and ends with a single bell-like tone, maybe a triangle, then flings itself headlong into turbulent, abstraction. Throughout Manley plays with clarity and its opposite, slicing through diffuse overtone-washed soundscapes with guitar tones sharpened to a knife-point. For instance, “Sunrise” builds a murk out of bowed tones and drones, then cuts through with sharp-focused guitar. “Alphawaves” flows out of this introduction (several of the tracks run together), building a clean, clear sense of purpose out strong rhythms and arcing, anthemic melodic lines. The song has a can-do positivity to it, not as giddy as Dan Friel’s solo work, but in the same abstractly positive family. Two late album tracks – “Mind’s Eye” and “Fireball” – add vocals to the proggy mix, articulating in words the same sense of mystery and discovery that was implicit in the music.
All the tracks are quite enjoyable but “Fireball” is the first one to pop. It is the loudest and most robotically funky of these cuts, with a grinding, rhythmic edge to it that reminds me of the Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein.” Here the locked-down rhythm, the explosive percussion, the strut and swagger of heavy rock merge with an otherworldly vocal line, so that you feel the track in your stomach, your twitching feet and your head all at once. The song lives in an unusual space where chaotic heat coexists with serenity. Manley named his album after the patterns produced by a brain in a relaxed, aware state, and the music captures a mindset that melds focus and detachment.
DOWNLOAD: “Fireball” “Alphawaves”