Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Manna From Nowhere "Opposite You"; Smug "Beefaroint Contabula"

By Michael Henningsen

APRIL 20, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale

!!=Roy Rogers

Manna From Nowhere Opposite You (Lucky T Music)

I have always been a fan of Chuck Hawley's guitar work, although admittedly not as staunch a fan of every project his playing has graced. Manna From Nowhere--which pairs Hawley once again with longtime collaborators Debo (accordion, vocals, various percussion) and Zoom (drums, percussion), along with Dorothy Dale (bass, backing vocals)--flutter about between Splinter Fish at the higher end of my opinion scale and 17 Reasons Why at the lower.

On their debut, Manna From Nowhere make stunning use of the time-seasoned vocal interplay between Hawley and Debo, but neither of them is as effective a solo vocalist. Therefore, songs like "Neither Do I" and "Velvet Elvis" are far more electrifying than those songs that feature long segments of singular vocal melodies. The exception is "George Washington," where two singers play quite well off each other in a sort of call and response.

The benchmark of all of Hawley, Debo and Zoom's work together is clearly defined grooves meshed with careful, calculated and expansive arrangement. And that's where Dale fits into the picture quite capably. Opposite You is testament to their experience with locking in as a unit. While some of the arrangements here come off a bit obtuse at times, and some songs tend toward lengthy and slightly overwrought, the record is quite celebratory and pleasing to the ears on most accounts. And like some of their contemporaries past and present--Saha World Telegraph, Alien Lovestock, Wagogo--Manna From Nowhere draw from more than just a handful of worldly influences, making their music oddly accessible. That is to say that the sound collage the band create has the unique characteristic of being attractive to many, rather selective circles. By the same token, Manna From Nowhere--again, like several of their contemporaries--are a difficult band to describe, much less pigeonhole. But, as becomes quite obvious after repeated listenings to Opposite You, the aforementioned traits are desirable ones in every respect despite being a small stumbling block for some promoters.

All in all, Opposite You is a solid debut from a group of musicians for whom widespread praise and recognition is long overdue. And once you're in tune with all the layers of reason behind their rhyme, you're likely to discover a band for everyman. !!!!

Smug Beefaroint Contubula (Science Project)

Consider for a moment the pros and cons of the DIY ethic. Like any other value system, its faults lie at its extremes. In the case of Smug's debut full-length, one extreme nearly ruined the record and, despite the valiant pinch hit efforts of Jorge Ripley (who stepped in at the post recording and initial production stage to attempt a save), still echoes throughout. The point is, you get what you pay for. Smug are lucky to have gotten more in the end.

Beefaroint has most of the ingredients necessary for a true, balls-out DIY punk-rock gem--great short songs, a little Oi! flavor here and there, frenetic execution and an overall attitude that is neither contrived nor overbearing. The boys have matured tenfold since the release of their debut single without having compromised their energy, determination or, most importantly, love for what they do. All of which makes the burning question, "Why on God's green earth would you settle for not just slightly poor but altogether shoddy production?" more pointed.

Unfortunately, what the record offers in pure punk-rock delight just isn't enough to make clipped drums and vocals sound intentional. Beefaroint offers a nice taste of Smug's usually excellent and always above-par songs in fully realized form, but none of the songs sound close to fully realized. Smug fans will no doubt be delighted just to have the record, but new fans--especially those who have yet to see an exceptional live performance by the band--may be made skeptical or just plain disappointed by the sonic deficiency.

Had half the thought, effort and care gone into the recording and production end of Smug's new platter, the results would no doubt have been stellar. These songs deserve better. As it stands, the record is an important lesson in doing it yourself: There's still room to do it right. !!

--Michael Henningsen


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