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Myles Manley
Cometh The Softies Zara Hedderman , January 28th, 2021 09:44

Sligo's Myles Manley produces his strongest body of work to date, finds Zara Hedderman

There’s an exceptionally endearing and enigmatic dichotomy to Myles Manley. At times, it’s difficult to decipher whether he’s permanently in character or occasionally slips into a role to form a protective barrier from some of his wildly entertaining assertions. Take his music videos, for example. His latest LP, Cometh the Softies, was preceded with AAA, a triptych of videos featuring Manley assume various guises from budding entrepreneur in a Dragon’s Den set-up to a re-enactment of Pope John Paul II’s 1979 papal visit to Dublin’s Phoenix Park, with Manley taking on the leading role.

More often than not, Manley triumphs in these roles. The mystery adds an extra layer of intrigue to his music. As a recording artist, one of his earlier guises was ‘popstar’ Myles Manley, which he adopted around the time of the release of Greatest Hits, his 2013 debut LP. Since then, the songwriter and musician, of English and Irish heritage, has continued to maintain that tongue-in-cheek polish across his material. Whether it’s in a song title (‘Were We Under Attack From England?’) or his idiosyncratic lyrical style.

Often associated with the anti-folk music scene, one he experienced first-hand during a spell in New York, an immediate comparison is often drawn to Jeffrey Lewis. While there are certain similarities between them, Manley’s sound is one that is quite unique, particularly in his home of Dublin. There aren’t many artists who sound like Manley and his band, which is what makes new material from him such a thrill. His distinguished cadence coupled with the capability to flow effortlessly between shifting soundscapes consistently make for deeply exhilarating listening.

On this occasion, Manley, with an excellent band featuring Christopher Barry and Solamh Kelly, is agile across the heightened arrangements of ‘Cinema / Mild Manners’ and ‘Billy Drag vs. Ed Sheercunt’. The latter, in particular, provides one of the more captivating moments of the record. Tempered by soft percussion, he’s almost angelic in his delivery before his tongue becomes acerbic in tearing down the fictional figures (described as “crusty” and “pigeon”, respectively) from the song’s title. Here, the instrumentation reaches glorious heights, bursting into a beautifully bright composition led by the golden tones of our narrator’s guitar. The melody is one which the listener cannot help but become enveloped in, the warmth emanating from the instrumentation is a more than welcome shelter for the audience.

Tonally, this forms a through-line across the ten songs. Clocking in at twenty-six minutes, Manley concisely packs a lot into the record's short run. Its brevity allows the audience to become acquainted with the characters we meet along the way and march in sync with the multi-layered compositions. Furthermore, shorter in duration than a train journey from the city to the seaside, this is a venture one would gladly do on loop for hours on end. On each rotation, the scenery within the song reveals more to you. Be it the simple detail of drums sticks chattering against each other (‘Relax, Enjoy Your Night Upon The Town’) or anticipating the marvellous transition from ‘Will Anyone… ?’ to the epically scuzzy ‘Fitzer’. The undeniable standout track of the record. The quickness in which Manley delivers the album (not to mention his rapid fire vocal delivery) enables the listener to devote more time to the songs, to become intimately familiar with each vital component of the arrangement.

A storied lyricist, Manley’s delivery is one that commands attention. Cometh the Softies, whilst brimming with pop sensibility, is an album that deserves the listeners undivided attention. Otherwise, you might miss out on lines like, “You think you’re so clever, it really hurts. You have to lay your dick down first” on the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-like ‘Yawn’ or “Heading for a little boogie woogie. Yeah I was heading for a little dance. Decades of neo-liberal policy meant that I never really had a chance or perhaps it was because I never put anything before romance” on the anxiously-paced ‘Smug’.

Thought-provoking, sincere, biting and wildly funny, Cometh the Softies is, without hesitation, Manley’s most accomplished body of work. One that is hard to step away from.