With all sorts of Eighties-birthed strains floating through the pop underground, it was only a matter of time before white noise, that misbegotten homage to the Velvet Underground propagated by the Jesus and Mary Chain, reappeared as an avant-garde tactic. Thank Dan "Manitoba" Snaith for hastening its return in the form of Up In Flames. Predictably it's a modernization of the now-standard psychedelic noise formula through electronics, yielding an impression of one who spends warm summer days indoors, staring out the window.
At his best Manitoba evokes a surrealism that is surprisingly honest and forthright. On "I've Lived on a Dirt Road All My Life," he sings "I've lost track of all the time/And I keep waiting by the phone/Tonight is colder than us/And I just want to get you home," his voice slurred through distortion effects. He, as well as guest vocalist Koushik Ghosh, tend to sing quietly, as if they were whispering, but the emotion in their words is palpable, if somewhat muted. Like the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," Manitoba's songs are at heart plaintive pop songs. But it's the studio trickery that gives them a heightened awareness of melody, particularly when it comes to tracks like the searching "Jacknuggeted" and its rhythmic handclaps that give way to rhythm guitar and organs.
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Up In Flames, then, gathers its strength from appropriating a sound that doesn't seem very innovative -- after all, critics have always had a soft spot for psychedelia -- and using it to communicate feelings that are best summed up through kaleidoscopic perspectives, the better to illustrate wistfulness and whimsy, rather than straightforward lyrics. Manitoba's best songs, in fact, are the ones where he doesn't sing at all (check "Twins" for proof), but it's the vocal interjections that make Up In Flames his own, as if he were signing his name at the bottom of a painting.