Mannequin – From a Distance

Mannequin is the coldwave project of Southern California’s David San German and Taylor Allen. From a Distance is their first full length LP, following the release of “Nocere” EP in 2019 and a few other singles during their debut in 2017. Their music is characterized by frigid soundscapes, made with glittering synths, tender baritone vocals and bold rhythm sections. There’s a machine-like cadence to these songs, where if placed in isolation the pulsing beats and minimalist melodies feel like they’ve come out of an 80’s home computer or an Atari console. But blend these elements together and the result is surprisingly emotional, gentle, even passionate. Although the band focuses on dark tones and moods, there’s always a sense of tenderness seeping through.

“Modern Light” is hopeful and vibrant. Full of swelling strings and pulsing arpeggios, with cold vocals and reverb that’s reminiscent of a cathedral choir, that is — if your church made use of 80’s korg and yamaha instruments. “City Lights” paints a dour 80’s nightlife atmosphere, with glittering neon lights and pulsing rhythms. In it the band sings that “the city cries” and all its inhabitants are at its mercy. The title track is nothing short of mesmerizing. Its combination of catchy melodies and rich textures and rhythms makes this feel both melancholic and dancy at the same time. 

One thing to note about From a Distance is the retro feeling that the band maintains. Through the years music production has seen a lot of progress in its techniques, especially in the electronic department. This can make modern synthwave sound too refined or perfect, the same cannot be said here. By far the aesthetic of this record gives off a hint that analogue instruments were mainly used, selling the immersion of that era perfectly. This is most apparent on “Radio” most of all, and seeing as how this song is a homage to an era where the radio was the prevailing source for music, this stylistic choice pays off nicely.

Other highlights include the spacey and often psychedelic “Self-Portrait”, which wouldn’t feel lost in a sci-fi space adventure. The LP closes with “Late Night”, where the band pulls all the stops in this grand finale. This track feels brighter than the rest, as if Mannequin has decided to let loose and just enjoy the many sounds they can layer together in five minutes. It rounds out the whole experience while provides a great sendoff for a wonderful record.

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