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J.G. Thirlwell, "Manorexia: The Mesopelagic Waters"

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cover image Nearly a decade ago, Jim Thirlwell released a pair of instrumental albums under the then-new guise of Manorexia on his own Ectopic Ents label.  While he hasn’t released anything new from the project since, he has been steadily shaping the Manorexia sound into something rather far removed from its origins through a series of sporadic performances arranged for chamber ensemble.  The Mesopelagic Waters is the end result of those efforts, re-envisioning a selection of those embryonic tracks as a harrowing and skillfully rendered modern classical suite.

Tzadik

JG Thirlwell - Manorexia: The Mesopelagic Waters

The mesopelagic region of a body of water is where it begins to get deep and dark, but not so much that no light penetrates.  It makes for an oddly chosen title reference, as I am mystified as to where Thirlwell is seeing any light: this is an unrepentantly churning, visceral, and disturbed album.  There are certainly some quieter moments strewn about, but they are never, ever placid.  In fact, Jim’s transition into a serious classical composer (other artists in Tzadik’s composer series include Harry Partch and Luc Ferrari) seems to have only increased his disquieting power.  Thirlwell hasn’t settled down, he has merely replaced his somewhat garish ‘80s horror movie electronics with violently sawing cellos, violas, and violins.

Those strings form the core of the album, and Thirlwell and his fellow arrangers wield them expertly (no surprise given the album’s lengthy gestation period).  Felix Fan’s cello ominously fills the low-end with simple, sinister-sounding patterns, David Broome’s piano veers effortlessly between queasy impressionism and bursts of ferocity, and the violins carry the melodic weight with uncomfortably dissonant harmonies.  It all intertwines beautifully into a textural masterpiece of sorts, as the musicians wrench a staggering array of drones, scrapes, creaks, throbs, shimmers, rumbles, and stabs from their instruments.  Thirlwell himself generally stays in the background as a performer, contributing occasional samples and very rare (or very inconspicuous) keyboard enhancements.  The samples are often integral to the atmosphere though, particularly the slowed-down motorcycle engine and chilling scraping and grinding of the drolly-titled “Tubercular Bells.”

The Manorexia aesthetic, in general, is based upon slow-building repetition and escalating tension.  Most of these pieces only contain a few distinct motifs, but Thirlwell is quite adept at turning relatively simple repeating ideas into something organic and exciting.  The central melodies are not where the action is—Jim’s artistry lies in how the surrounding music ebbs, flows, lurches, and pounds around them and how dissonances are impishly added and subtracted in an endless chess match of tension and release.

While the eight compositions here are almost invariably haunting and wonderful, Thirlwell’s most stunning achievement here is as a producer.  The Mesopelagic Waters sounds massively, impossibly dense during its more cathartic moments.  In fact, it sounds like the whole damn world is collapsing during the apocalyptic crescendo of “Tranque,” a feat that not many people besides Scott Walker can convincingly pull off.  Obviously, composing “serious” music is relatively new for Jim, but he has an intuitive understanding of dynamics and gut-level power that seems miles ahead of both his peers and his influences: music this nightmarish needs to explode out of the speakers and that is exactly what it does.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 May 2010 10:36  


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