Sometimes you can tell if an album is going to be worth a damn just by the opening seconds of the first track. Although this is not always a foolproof way to judge a record, in the case of Norway's Serena-Maneesh, it definitely works. Their self-titled album begins with the steady beat of a drum, followed by layer after layer of guitar, building to the beautiful payoff of a fantastic male/female voiced chorus. Yeah, this is all just from the opening track, "Drain Cosmetics." One thing I love about this band is that they take their time with each song, allowing the structure to slowly build and expand, giving a much more organic feel to the album. This is a songwriting method that has been embraced by the Dandy Warhols, who are also huge fans of Serena-Maneesh.
This is an album that is built upon layers, with sonic textures that soar to the heavens. Stacks of distorted keys and guitars support the delicate balance between frontman Emil Nikolaisen's lead and the breathy female backup vocals on "Un-Deux." The slow build mentality returns on the six plus minute "Candlelighted," focusing on a repeating rhythm pattern on the drums and guitars, then collapsing into a nearly-Stereolab ending of bouncing jazzy basslines.
Serena-Maneesh are not afraid to get their rock on, such as on the blazing track "Beehiver II." This manic stomper is filled with loud, sexy guitar licks that end in a blazing fury of noise, perfectly segueing into the melancholy of "Her Name Is Suicide" for a much needed break from the chaos. Up next is one of the highlights of the album, a seven-minute track of rock perfection a la Spiritualized, "Sapphire Eyes High." The somewhat tribal pounding of the drums and crunchy guitars gives way to a stunningly beautiful chorus, exposing the pop roots that have been hiding under the layers of noise.
While it would be easy to make comparisons to bands such as My Bloody Valentine, the Velvet Underground and many others, Serena-Maneesh really do stand on their own as a fantastic group. After one listen to "Don't Come Down Here," with long, suspended chords and spine tingling male/female vocals, it was pretty damn obvious that this is a very special album. By the time "Your Blood Is Mine" concludes, which is the final track on the record, I almost feel like I need a nap. Serena-Maneesh takes listeners on a journal from Earth to the heavens and back again, exploring so many musical textures and melodies along the way. Beautiful, noisy, atmospheric, cinematic, there are many words to describe the aural trip of Serena-Maneesh, but the only way to truly get it is to experience their music yourself.