Bajamar by Manual (Review)

To be perfectly honest, I just think Munk has found himself in a bit of rut.
Bajamar, Manual

I’ve never been to Denmark, so all I know about the country comes from films and pictures. And to be quite honest, it doesn’t exactly look like the warmest, most welcoming climate on the planet. So I guess it doesn’t surprise why Manual (aka Danish lad Jonas Munk Jensen) has recorded a series of albums that do their best to capture far more tropical climes. The North Shore, Golden Sun, Azure Vista: all three of these releases have, more or less, been obsessed with the idea of warm ocean nights, golden sandy beaches, and the humid sea air, from the warm ambient textures to the song titles to the artwork.

And as you might guess from the artwork and title, Bajamar does little to break this trend. Completely eschewing the hip-hop beats that flowed throughout Golden Sun, and to a lesser extend, Azure Vista, Bajamar is a purely ambient album a la The North Shore. Like The North Shore, the five tracks on Bajamar are composed entirely of soft ambient drifts whose forms are gauzy at best, and whose movement and progression can only be described as a continuous series of ebbs and swells.

After the short opening provided by the title track, “Celebration” begins to take shape amidst shimmering pools of processed guitar sounds. It’s lovely enough, at times sounding like a long lost excerpt from The Cocteau Twins’ Victorialand album. However, the sounds and textures are nothing that Munk hasn’t employed before, they’ve just been stretched and morphed to a greater extent than before. However, once you hear those crystalline chimes, which sound like church bells drifting across the waters, or the sonic version of kaleidoscopic light of the tropical sun reflecting off the constantly shifting ocean, it’s unmistakably Munk. It’s almost impossible to mistake where this album is heading.

I know some have criticized The North Shore but it still ranks as my favorite Manual recording to date. And while many people will obviously lump Bajamar in with that album and dismiss the whole batch as a collection of pretty but limp watery ambient sounds that try to get by on solely on nostalgia and wistfulness, I think that particular criticism applies much more accurately to Bajamar.

For starters, Bajamar is a much more minimal work than The North Shore, and as pretty and lovely as Munk’s guitar processing may be, they’re already apt to just drift about aimlessly. The North Shore, at least, possessed some sense of progression and movement, whether it be with faint traces of melody or by simply allowing new and unique sounds and elements to slowly filter into the songs as they went on. With Bajamar, that’s not really the case.

Of course, “Reminiscence” starts off on an evocative note, with dark drones slowly circling about, no doubt attempting to capture the stillness of the ocean at night. And while new elements slowly begin to drift in, they turn out to be the exact same sort of shimmering guitar treatments that were used on the previous track (as well as the previous 3 albums).

As for the stuff about Munk’s music trying to get by too hard on nostalgia, I’m certainly not going to fault him for that. Nostalgia and wistfulness is a powerful force, especially in music, and has resulting in much of the music that I hold dearest. I will say that perhaps Munk has just become a little too caught up in his dreaminess. The North Shore was suffused with nostalgia and melancholy, but it was much deeper and more resonant than what I hear on Bajamar.

To be perfectly honest, I just think Munk has found himself in a bit of rut. He obviously has a sound that he loves, and there’s no doubt that he’s able to process gorgeous sounds from his guitars, pedals, synths, etc. — but maybe it’s time to pack up the bags and revisit the homeland for a bit, if only to get a fresh perspective. One can only stay on the beach, gazing longingly out at the waves, for so long before you simply become lost and adrift yourself.

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