They’ve landed a major record deal, are set to tour the US and Canada and are being massively hyped on both sides of the Atlantic. Could 2006 prove to be Serena Maneesh’s breakthrough year?
2005 turned out to be a great year for Serena Maneesh. Their august full-length debut record ignited disillusioned critics and music lovers longing for a fresh cascade. A grand tour of Europe supporting The Dandy Warhols and inspired gigs in the US installed them in musical hearts and minds as well as in international music media’s ever scanning attention-beam.
The year was rounded off with a tour of Sweden, a plethora of Norwegian award nominations and a “whole lotta buzz”. And 2005 was only the warm-up..
Serena Maneesh, who would be surprised if informed that this name had special mantric properties? -That it was in fact an incantation devised to summon everlasting light or perhaps airs perfumed by burning sandalwood?
But Serena is not some sage from the foothills of the Hindu Kush, nor a lesser member of the panoply of Indian gods (Maneesh is to be pronounced, coincidently, with the stress on the ‘n’ and not the ‘e’; pronounced then like the elephant god Ganesh).
It is rather the enchanting name of Norway’s most dazzling new rock band. However, the strange name does a fine job of a first introduction, for its mysterious twang and mesmerising escapism is at the core of the music of Serena Maneesh. And as it draws the compass toward the east, we get an indication of the mindset this band represents.
More specifically, it is the mindset and artistic vision of singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and musical witchdoctor Emil Nikolaisen.
Serena is Emil’s band; his vision and the vehicle for his feverish musical invocation.
The norm is space
At first this music is somewhat bewildering, for it fails to cater to prejudice and expectations, and appears to be just as much sonic explorations as rounded songs. But as the ear adjusts and the mind, hopefully, opens, one comes to realise that this music is neither, and it is both. For, as more and more have come to discover, the genius of Emil Nikolaisen is his ability to come up with melodies, and indeed music, with a new kind of conditionality. His phrases, licks, hints and lines seem to thrive and come to fruition on a different basis than any normal “well-made” melody. Where the norm is “space” and primacy to what is supposedly a song’s best qualities, Serena Maneesh seem to be oblivious to such structure and such hierarchy. Contrary to composed, instructive music, their songs oscillate and sway between starkness and chaotic sonics, and more often than not the musical gems are to be found in the periphery; like condensations one could easily miss altogether. It is as if Emil defies the laws of musical attraction, and creates a reception-response that takes the listener off balance and initiates him into something new.
As Serena themselves confess, their music is just as much an ongoing experiment as song-writing craftsmanship. In the tradition of psychedelia this is not unknown as artistic goal, it is however, too often only that.
And that is why the label of psychedelia is wrong, for it is too closely associated with predictable sonics and cheap musical “spice”. Serena Maneesh transcend such dawdling altogether, precisely because their sheets of sound and layers of instruments serve not to veil the absence of any inspired melody-making, but to obscure and treasure the presence of pure, twinkling melodies and sections. -Stuff that is somewhat alien, yet, or exactly therefore, irresistible.
And so the genius of Serena Maneesh resides not only in the uniqueness of the melodic vein, but just as much in the understanding of how to sway between veiling and unveiling, i.e. how to structure music for it to cater to the true complexities of the listener.
As one should not be surprised to learn, such a band is already selling more records abroad than at home, and indications are clear that Serena Maneesh are destined to ensnare many, many more in their luminous, layered cloak of music.
Ed. note: Mid-february saw Serena Maneesh inking a record deal with brand-new label PlayLouderecordings - an offspring of London-based media website / digital label PlayLouder and UK indie conglomerate the Beggars Group (home to the Beggars Banquet, 4AD, XL, Too Pure, MoWax, Matador, Mantra, and Wiiija labels). Serena Maneesh are Playlouderecordings' first signing, although PlayLouder.com has previously treated its readership to several digital singles, including the Serena Maneesh track "Drain Cosmetics”.