The artwork for Manual's latest album, Azure Vista, consists of blurry photos of parks in the San Diego area, shot at twilight during the summer. It's a cool yet warm image; seductive in its attractiveness, mellow in its appearance. You can see people walking about, having a good time on the beach and on the sidewalks, and you wish you were them. You can feel the cool yet warm sea breezes on your face while thin white clouds in the sky gracefully float by. If it's true that you can't judge a book by its cover, then Manual has quickly proven that truth to be false.
When you venture inside the record, you'll find grooves that quite aptly fit the cool exterior. Through eight long tracks, Manual (the one-man project of German composer Jonas Munk) creates soundscapes that are a far cry from electronica's cold, detatched nature. In an ironic twist, these warm tones are built on styles that are anything but. While listening, you'll find hints of Harold Budd and Brian Eno here, a smattering of Durutti Column there and the occasional Robin Guthrie guitar shimmer. Then there's "Neon Reverie," with an intro that sounds like an unholy mix of two great pop songs: "Be My Baby" and "Kokomo," thus creating an experience that's not unlike an artistic interpretation of driving down the 101 in a Mustang convertable on a clear Saturday afternoon.
Suffice to say, it's obvious that Munk is inspired by some really great musicians. More importantly, Munk is simply inspired. The upbeat "Summer of Freedom" and "Neon Reverie" blend nicely with the mellower moments of "Twilight" and "Tourmaline," but even though the songs are epic in length, Azure Vista never becomes dull or boring. If anything, Azure Vista does exactly what a good ambient record should do--it fades into the background but it inspires the emotions of the listener. The rainbow of sonic colors on Azure Vista inspires visions of sunny summer days and cool summer nights.
My first listen to Azure Vista came at night, and its warm, soothing tones and quiet heartbeat pulse felt like the loving embrace of a special someone, and the next morning I woke up feeling alive, perky and loved. Did Azure Vista have something to do with that? Mmmm, perhaps it did.
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