WTF???? I’ve been wrapped up in just one album, that’s The Big Day, the friggin’ official debut by Chance The Rapper. Nope, I apologize to no one because I love that shit. Chance is one “mainstream” rapper I can appreciate because he had that DIY aesthetic from the get-go and had mainstream appeal. If anyone wished to start a debate about it, don’t look my way because I will completely ignore the criticisms on my taste in music. No this isn’t a guilty pleasure as a great man once told me “There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, just music you choose to listen to.” You can’t hide, or rather you shouldn’t, what appeals to you. If someone attempts to berate you on what you enjoy just throw up a middle finger, tell them to STFU and be out.
So now Cherubs hasn’t reimagined itself to oblige conformity in 2019, instead opting to continue within the spacious confines of an ubiquitous plane of existence. The early 90s was an explosive era for independent music when groups eschewed labels and tags, all the while experimenting, recording, and playing with a barrage of sound. Cherubs wasn’t much different in that respect, as they fit in alongside like-minded artists like Unsane, Sonic Youth, Cosmic Psychos, former labelmates Crust and The Butthole Surfers just to name a few. After just two albums, the group viciously broke up with an onstage fight between band members, leaving behind their 1994 sophomore release Heroin Man. The band was criticized for its cover which depicted a person facedown in a bathtub. The cover and thematic lyricism were influenced by the death of the band’s close friend, Dave DeLuna. The band did reunite back in 2014, 20 years after the release of the album (which Amphetamine Reptile reissued in 2017.) The band shared new material in 2015 with 2 YNFYNYTY (Brutal Panda) with physical copies released in limited quantities. Fast forward to 2019: Cherubs release Immaculada High (Relapse Records).
That’s as much of a history lesson as I’d like to give, so we move on to the present, and the band’s new material. The fact that Cherubs have landed on Relapse is no surprise; the band has walked a thin wire between noisy experimentalism and rock so it’s a no brainer. But I digress, this is about Immaculada High after all. The band opens with a heart-pounding “Turista,” with drums setting the pace for the explosive guitars and distortedly howled vocals. Cherubs move as one unit here, with singular precision, much like they always have. If this was a slab a beef, could you call it a throbbing gristle? Yeah, it’s raw right before it hits the grill with blood still dripping out of it. Yes! It doesn’t move at a feverish pace, no, that’s what “18 The Number” is for. Straight out the gates, from the slums of Texas, the band turns it u to 11 as we watch all the pestilence surrounding the band, scurry into crevices and hiding spots. They fear the imminent obliteration from the banshee-like levels of their instruments.
The group shifts from moving at high speeds to the mid-tempo mark all the while keeping levels high AF, but that’s alright. We get the sense that the band isn’t just creating noise for noise sake. “Sooey Pig” include loads of dissonance but a sublime melody keeping things in check, as does the thickness of “IMCG,” which is at times astounding.
The Austin, Texas band has proven that there’s life after death, first with 2 YNFYNYTY and now with Immaculada High. They’re obviously ready to take their place amongst the greatest of bands because a resurrection doesn’t come easy… although according to the Cherubs output, for them it is. This shit right here? It’s what dreams are made of.
As with just about anything, what’s old is new and what’s new is usually past tense. Occasionally I’ll yearn for the days when an artist could care less about what’s charting, what’s popular, or what’s hip and just set out to create a batch of songs that are simply derivative unto themselves. It’s almost an impossibility to dig in and create something in that way, we all understand that.
Enter Maneka, with the new Devin (Exploding In Sound) and you might be surprised. Maneka is the project fronted by musician Devin McKnight, a former Berklee School of Music student who also did time in Speedy Ortiz. While there is that connection and Sadie Dupuis does appear on this recording, Maneka sounds nothing like the speedsters, holding onto an identity of its own. If we rewind a bit, we understand where Maneka is coming from. McKnight admits the influence of older sibling’s love of the early ‘90s rock that was filled with loud guitars and so much dissonance, as well as his own father’s passion for jazz guitar. McKnight seems to incorporate his love of those things and could easily have earned a following decades ago. That’s not to say Devin is full of ill-advised dated rock. On the contrary, Devin is refreshingly appealing holding onto experimentation without becoming trivial, and avoiding mimicry of his own influences. For those in the know, you may find yourself reflective; when labels created “sounds” rallying around independence in a time when Steve West and Bob Nastanovich were playing drums together under a blissful cacophony of sound. “A Brand New Day” is filled with a cheerful melody, dissonant/distorted guitars as McKnight sings alongside that melody…and it’s a stunning opener.
McKnight allows the Maneka music to flow in a natural manner, letting the songs morph seemingly by osmosis. It seems almost effortless although purposeful, and you hear that on “Mixer,” with guitar noodling in the background making noise over a steady rhythm and a throbbing bassline. It’s playful and the inclusion of horns accentuates the cleverness here. And I keep circling back to “Glazed” with its heavy-handed bass and McKnight’s clear and precise vocals. There are some stop/start moments here and changing rhythms that get my attention. And that’s a good thing.
Maneka has delivered a beast of an album in Devin, with nods to influences that are at times obvious, yet, not. It’s simply really well done!