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Seven Steps Behind Lottie Brazier , April 3rd, 2019 08:59

Daniele Mana’s second Hyperdub release is messing with our boundaries, finds Lotte Brazier

Listening to Italian producer Mana’s Seven Steps Behind feels like being welcomed into an unfamiliar home: there’s plenty here which is comforting and enveloping, but getting used to its layout requires a few repeat visitations. Because of its wealth of different timbres and structural variation, the album is hard to process in one listen alone. So where on Earth to begin?

Seven Steps Behind, Mana aka Daniele Mana’s second Hyperdub release, plays with our expectation of boundaries. That is, between what’s an organic or digital instrument, what constitutes a single track, our expectations of structure. Mana creates familiar tones which don’t quite match the instruments they mimic, or processes organic sounds so much that it’s hard to tell if he ever created them from an acoustic instrument at all. The hyper-tweaking of organic sounds is not an original one: this has been practiced since the invention of treated instruments and effects pedals. Rather, the real intrigue comes from Mana’s ability to make digital instruments come so close to sounding like they’re organic. You can imagine some Robert Fripp deep fake behind the guitar-like riffs on ’Myopia For The Future’, conjuring up myriad suggestions for how his acidic solos should fit with that particular track.

Despite all of this blurring between the organic and digital, Mana’s melodies are at moments light and at times even placid, making Seven Steps Behind sound like a non-malignant relative of Arca’s Mutant. The most disorientating aspect of listening to Seven Steps Behind is in its structure rather than its overall sound. Like an algorithm trained to generate new visualisations based on a series of images, on Mana’s album a new piece will spring from its predecessor, giving the impression that the song is developing into a completely different track. It’s more easy to think of Mana’s music as a series of different scenes phasing in and out of an overall picture.

Almost immediately it’s obvious that the palette on Seven Steps Behind is more adventurous than that found on Mana’s debut EP Creature, tapping into the listener’s memory bank with snatches of a David Attenborough commentary, marimbas, soft neo-classical strings, new age ambient pads and Harmonia-esque arpeggios. ‘Instinction’ concludes on flickering synth melodies that hint at synth pop influences. On ‘Soaking In Water’, Mana’s voice is often lost inside of this technological mistiness, briefly pulled up between sub-bass, barely given room to coexist with his own compositions. Non-malignant this alien sounding album may be, it is underpinned by existential melancholy.

In creating an album that constantly shifts, giving the listener little time to remember what came before, Mana has made an album which sounds ever so slightly different every time you approach it. It’s fascinating, being able to go back to an album and find that certain motifs stick out more to you than others, but rather depends on you being in an exploratory mood as to avoid being overwhelmed. Seven Steps Behind requires being listened to in a relaxed manner without anticipation, treating the whole as potent, highly dynamic background music.