Manray are a math rock quintet from Athens, GA. Although only having formed in June, they have already created quite a buzz due to frequent performances and a recent tour with local rockers Lazer/Wulf. Comprised of three brothers Ryan, Jordan, and Derek Oliviera, they are completed by guitarist Gene Woolfolk. All members share vocal duties. Their first recorded offering, a four song EP entitled “I Think I heard Something…”, fuses psychedelia, math rock, and indie rock into an amalgam of twisted rhythms, complexly arranged lead lines, and wide dynamic changes.
While some have cited Manray as a “math rock” group, this EP highlights a much more psychedelic sound. Many songs feature sustained feedback, pulsing hand clap rhythms, and airy chord voicings. The title track opens as such with interplaying guitar lines that create deceivingly simple, yet amusing melodies. The vocals consist of a series of distant “woaaah’s”, essentially making the song an instrumental. A tropical and light atmosphere is created by the guitars, but it becomes overpowered by crashing cymbals as the song moves between load and soft sections. Where drums do take over they tend to overshadow the rest of the sounds. Despite this, it is an interesting contrast between soft guitars and harsh drumming.
After a brief bass driven interlude, the third song, “Blue Lights: On,” takes the band to a harder, more metal-oriented sound. The riffs rely heavily on hammer-ons, pull-offs, and quickly ascending runs. The chaotic drum style of Derek Olivia fits better here than on the first song. True vocals and lyrics are introduced as Gene and Ryan alternate throaty screams and more moving clean vocals. Their vocals help fill out the texture of the sound which is a bit thin due to lack of rhythm guitar or consistent kick drum. Quick rhythm changes and slippery drum fills help to make the track a highlight of the EP.
The last song, “Burning Bridges”, begins with another hard driving riff which alludes to some metal or punk influences. Unfortunately, this time the vocals (shared by Jordan and Gene) seem to fall lackluster, especially in the verses. Their placement in the mix could be culprit, however, I believe they clash too much with the busy riffing. These sections just sound too clustered and the bizarre rhythms detract from having any sort of memorable melody. The clean vocals that follow during the bridge are more successful. They seem to float over the riffs which are less chaotic. More rhythm stops highlighted by harmonized lead guitar lines continue through the song and traditional power chord style rhythms also make an appearance adding to the diverse (at times overwhelming) variety.
The recording quality of the EP is quite primeval. Better compression, overall EQing, and attention to detail and creativity during the mixing stage could’ve brought the songs to life. While a raw, unfiltered sound may work well for a live mix, it doesn’t translate so well to a production quality CD which will be listened to in car stereos, on iPod’s, etc.
[WARNING: Editorial to follow]
As a metal enthusiast I see a need for a certain amount of groove in all music whether it be rock, jazz, or even classical. To me the math rock genre seems to say “Screw the groove. Were gonna play freaky time signatures to show that we’re incredibly competent counters.” While this may not be true of all bands labeled under the genre’s canopy, it does raise a critical question relevant to all genres featuring highly technical musicianship: Where does the line between a lot and too much end? On their first EP, Manray have packed a ton of different ideas into essentially three songs. To me, it is overwhelming and not very well conceived. Their song writing abilities simply have not caught up with their technical proficiency.
Many artists today are turning to strange, call it progressive, musical tones to set their sound apart from the rest. However, in so doing they have established weirdness as a standard. I would like to see Manray set themselves apart from Cinemechanica, Powers, and whoever else they take influence from by being less obviously mathematical. Some subtlety and restraint could help propel this band to their full potential.
1. I Think I Heard Something…
3. Blue Lights: On
4. Burning Bridges