Well, if you want a disorienting listen in new rock, look no further than this: I don’t think I’ve ever been more confused at the beginning of an album, when it started out oppressively sterile with almost no reverb on the drums and a juvenile, Guitar Hero type riff with no gravity or direction. I thought, this is going to be worse than Hawthorne Heights, so much to my surprise then when “Problematic Subject” wings out into a pleasingly nonsensical litany of hearty harmonica runs and percussive ambiguity. Each of these songs, then, offers some variation in tempo, meter or mood to make Manic Candid Episode a document BASED on constant flux and chaos, intriguingly so, the way the title would seem to suggest.
The opener “Problematic Subject” is surely a worthy discussion point on its own, with the tenuous indication that it’s a women’s protest song (though this band remains very esoteric the singer is female and from looking at their upcoming tour dates one can deduce that they’re from the West Coast). Typically activism and music haven’t been two different things that are good to fuse together, but what better time to start than now? It’s not like music’s working anybody these days, with Stevie Nicks getting inducted twice into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and then all these millennial douche bags calling her “boring.” “Withstand” is capable blues-rock (as the name alludes to, I suppose) and then the next notable beacon here is that third we get a title track, a rather unconventional ploy by modern rock standards (the only other track three title track I can think of off the top of my head would be Sleater-Kinney’s “All Hands on the Bad One.” Insofar as it can be assumed the band did this for a reason, this type of thing warrants a close listen, and in this case, surely deserves one. With especial, tenacious attention to detail, the band switch from 6/8, one unconventional meter, to 3/4, yet another one. They do so, though, with such confidence and chutzpah that the unusual wrinkles are ironed over with great expedition, the howling female vocals (these guys remind me a lot of Band of Skulls, in a lot of ways) taking over atop bare guitar/bass instrumentation, only to explode into Fender power chords and even a piano solo for the chorus and bridge.
In general, along these lines, instrumentation and production are resounding successes all over Manic Candid Episode (belied by the album’s very first moments, as I imply earlier), the electric rhythm guitars, while played with lithe, rambunctious hands, always having this gorgeous, velvety texture about them which actually has a nice way of echoing the singer’s voice, raw and vulnerable but still beautiful and robust. “Comfort Zone,” though, the album’s celestial centerpiece, is fully the creation of the vocalist alone. In the chorus, she laments that “I’m already falling back into my / Comfort zone”, as if this very security blanket she seeks is also cowardly, something she needs to cast off in order to really fulfill her own life in the way she wants to. I think we’ve all definitely been there, but we wouldn’t have all thought to drape in a big, prominent minor chord in the chorus there, as if to bestow this moment with an increased tinge of melancholy as to make it truly singular in rock, at least in terms of this particular year. And although, surely The Murlocs strike me as “professional” musicians with a pretty substantial studio budge and a lot of technical training, what emanates to the surface on these songs is still the emotion and not the style — it’s the basic life discoveries that hurt so bad that you remember, that really reverberate amidst all of this surrounding beauty.