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Mandy, Indiana
I’ve Seen A Way Will Salmon , May 19th, 2023 08:21

Francophone Manchester-based quartet sound crisp and fuzzy in equal measures on debut LP, finds Will Salmon

Mandy, Indiana’s much anticipated debut album opens with ‘Love Theme (4K VHS)’, a deliberately-paced track that welcomes you to the record with a slow build and Vangelis-like synths, before it slits your throat as ‘Drag [Crashed]’ viciously cuts in. It’s a startling one-two punch that captures the album's two key tones – cinematic ambience and aggressive dancefloor beats – in microcosm.

Let’s backtrack a little. Mandy, Indiana have been heating up Manchester’s music scene over the last few years. The trio, fronted by singer Valentine Caulfield, released a very promising EP on FireTalk in 2021. I’ve Seen A Way is very much an expansion of that record’s sound. The template – industrial beats, serrated blades of noise, collages of found sound, all ruled over by Caulfield’s furious vocals (sung in her native French) – are present and correct, but with the space afforded by the album format there’s also the room to stretch out a little.

Start with the bangers – and there are plenty, mostly front-loaded. ‘Drag [Crashed]’ has a cold techno pulse, while Caulfield recounts a series of misogynist insults: “Souris, souris, souris, souris / C’est plus joli une fille qui sourit” (translation: “Smile, smile, smile, smile / It’s prettier a girl who smiles”) being one of the milder ones. ‘Pinking Shears’ has a confident, loping swagger, while the lyrics snarl with frustration at the refugee crisis, poverty and the generally awful state of the world. Best of all is ‘Injury Detail’, which feels both rigidly mechanistic and relentlessly funky. You can imagine it playing in a John Wick film as Keanu batters the shit out of a horde of villains.

But there’s also an enjoyably patchwork quality to the record. The tracks lurch from one mood to another, never quite fitting together. As much as the album is nodding towards dance music, it’s also pushing it away. Tracks end suddenly (‘Injury Detail’ could happily go on for six or seven minutes, but stutters out early), are swamped with noise and are generally designed to be as un-mixable as possible. Factory Floor feel like kindred spirits to the band, but so too do Liars, Throbbing Gristle and especially their former touring mates, Gilla Band, whose spirit is especially felt in the second half of the album.

‘The Driving Rain (18)’ is slight but pleasing, a simple ambient sketch and a drum machine loop. It sets up ‘2 Stripe’, which finds the band at their most eerie and evocative. Over an ominous beat, Caulfield quietly intones a fairytale narrative. “Once upon a time / A little girl worked in a big castle,” it begins, but this story soon takes a sour turn. The girl’s parents “died of cold and starvation” while the royal family she serves live luxurious, happy lives. The band’s politics are not subtle, but then we don’t live in subtle times. Closer ‘Sensitivity Training’ is direct in its alarm-sounding at the creeping rise of fascism (“Do you hear the sound of boots clattering on the pavement / They come to us, the boots, they come to get us”) and even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll pick up on what the track’s dissonant martial stomp is saying.

When I think of this album, I keep coming back to the parentheses on that first track title: ‘4K VHS’. I’ve Seen a Way somehow exists in the contrasts of those two abbreviations, at once razor sharp and high definition while also gauzy and blown out. It’s a visceral and strange album, one that revels in its abstractions, but is direct in what it has to say.