“Stitch”, is the début album by First We Take Manhattan, a collaboration between Brighton musicians Jack Bayne and Tom White. Those who know their indie will probably be familiar with one of those names, the latter being one of the creative forces of The Electric Soft Parade, as well as being part of Brighton “supergroup” Brakes and having a handful of wonderfully eclectic solo albums to his name. Jack Bayne is probably an unknown quantity to most people, unless you happened to catch his band Pony who were part of the Brighton music scene over ten years ago, but it is Jack who is responsible for the songwriting on this project, with Tom being given the freedom to take charge of the arrangements, instrumentation, production and nearly everything else you hear, other than the vocals and a smattering of Jack’s guitar and cello. The album was recorded almost casually over the space of three years as an ongoing creative venture when Tom and Jack got together to have a good time and, astonishingly when you hear this music, the two friends only realised that they had a fully-formed album when they came back to their songs after a few months break from recording.
“Seven” kicks the album off with a cacophony of crashing percussion and feedback-laden guitar before melding into a Radiohead-esque guitar arpeggio and Bayne’s expressive vocals, which I can only describe as the kind of voice you would get if you combined Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys with The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. It is an engaging, slow-burning, strangely beauteous piece that grows in stature with every listen. The striking “Coming Out” is introduced via speaker-shuddering drums, wailing synths and low-key vocals, before bursting into a swelling, beguiling chorus that Bowie would be proud to call his own. “No Wind Blows” begins deeply reminiscent of Radiohead, the 5/4 time, sparse drumbeat and haunting vocals building up until the song explodes at about the two-and-a-half minute mark to be underpinned by a gritty guitar riff, which, juxtaposed with Bayne’s floating, ethereal voice results in an absolutely gloriously moving sound. The relentless beat and distorted riff of “Pleased To Meet You” creates a dark, bleak backdrop before the multi-tracked harmonies of the briefly beauteous line “Why don’t you let me breathe?” allow dazzling waves of sonic bliss to cascade over the music.
The acoustic guitar-led “Always Dependent” has echoes of the seventies, almost Pink Floyd-like in the chord structure, and proves to be an aesthetically pleasing change of pace, almost an intermission, providing breathing space between the more intense compositions. “Place Of No More” begins with an understated guitar line, the riff mapping out the vocal line, and the song builds slowly but steadily, bringing more instruments in gradually, building tension until it finally culminates in a grandiose, gorgeous sound, with Jack’s vocals growing in stature throughout. It’s an epic, exhilarating journey and the subtle but beautifully effective deviation from the chord sequence at 4:46 is a wonderful touch. Perhaps the crowning glory of the whole project is “The World We Live In”, which is one of the most magnificent pieces I have heard for a while, reaching the kind of thrilling emotional heights that Elbow have been searching for, in vain, over their last couple of releases. The album concludes with the gently alluring “Morning”, beginning with Bayne’s vocals dancing over a military rhythm played on the snare which then gives way to a Doves-esque chiming chorus. It all feels over way too soon.
Be warned, this isn’t easy listening. First We Take Manhattan’s début is an intricate, challenging, profoundly artistic piece of work which commands the listener’s attention, and demands complete involvement in the music to fully appreciate the subtleties and receive the full rewards that the often brief, immensely beautiful pay-offs deliver. “Stitch” is an enormously emotional experience, frequently edgy, packed full of tension and release, one that places just as much importance on the songs as it does the delivery and the overall glorious world of sound you are immersed into. In a world full of people who demand instant music fixes from barely musically-literate pop singers, Bayne and White provide musical manna for those who demand a little more substance and depth amongst the exhilarating pure adrenaline rushes dotted amongst their tracks. This is music that feels urgent, alive and vital. It boasts arrangements and structures that make your mind work and enough light and shade contrast to give your emotional core a real workout. Listen to it, love it, buy it.
“Stitch”, by First We Take Manhattan, was self-released on June 9th, 2014 and can be streamed and downloaded from their bandcamp page. Jack Bayne and Tom White are in the process of getting a live band together and should be announcing some dates later on in the year.
Andy Sweeney, 10th June, 2014.