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Manu Delago – “Metromonk” Review

Bringing the hang drum to the masses
Manu Delago
Manu Delago

I first came across Manu Delago as the hang drummer for Bjork and I profess my utter love for that instrument. However, most hang drummers usually stay within the realms of meditative soundscapes or simple melodies. Manu, as we should have guessed working with Bjork, treads a more exciting and eclectic line – and his debut album Metromonk is all the more fantastic for it.

Manu’s hang drum is without a doubt the star of the show. His prowess of the instrument is possibly second to none when it comes to diversity. He is also happy to weave things into a more traditional pop song like structure though and that’s where the album really comes alive. “A Step” is a gentle introduction with beautiful melodies the brush your ears whilst Pete Josef’s lush thick voice soothes you over the top. It’s melancholy but sumptuous with a thumping kick drum keeping a pulse behind the melodies. “Between Oil and Water” plays around with note bending, giving things an alien feel. Crossed with Middle Eastern brass arrangements from Erik Truffaz, there’s a distinct Turkish feel to the piece. Even when the electronic drums kick in, it feels like you’re swimming through another world as the drums smash and splash in slow motion whilst the rest of the instruments seductively coil around your ears. The electronic percussion throughout is sublime as each hit of every drum has a satisfying smash and echo to it. Manu knows how to really make a tuned percussion album and it’s leaps and bounds beyond any other I’ve heard. For those looking for more traditional solo’s of the hang drum, or steel drums in general “Freeze” will have you covered with its lush melodies that you could have on repeat. Juxtaposed with “Pointillism”, the two are exact opposites as the latter is nearly devoid of tune and focuses on other noises a drum can make over an electronic ambience and tuned glass.

Douglas Dare received my album of the year award last year, so to find him as guest vocalist on “Abrupt” cheered me no end. The track is suitably edgy, eerie but punchy as Dare reels off things that can be abrupt as the repetitive riff slowly veers off into an electronic buzzing pulse and back again as a percussive slap. It’s a great piece and really shows how Delago’s tracks take on as much from the collaborators personality as they do himself. This is especially true when Isa Kurz steps in for the fantastic “Mesmer mesmerising” which is a pop anthem in waiting. It’s so upbeat, sunny, catchy and cute – the two tracks couldn’t be further from each other in tone and yet it all feels so right. Stunning.

The final third of the album continues to expand Manu’s palette. “Spaceful” sounds like something GoGo Penguin would make if he was in their band. It’s an epic sci fi jazz like piece but less on the jazz, and more on the sci fi epicness. The last thing you’d expect on a hang drum album is a dance beat for cyber-techno but here we are – and I love it. “Snow Screen” is an abstract piece that focuses again on pitch bending and hitting the drums like they are muted kettle bells.  It grows over the track to something eerie and mechanical but that term is overridden when “Chimp Rave” bursts in with its mechanical industrial tango beats, Latin piano and crazy bass lines. The hang drums are barely here as all hell breaks loose before the gente “Herzkeks” closes things out with a lullaby of hang.

As inventive as it is masterful, and as catchy as it is revolutionary – Manu Delago’s Metromonk will hopefully push the beautiful instrument into a more mainstream world. It places a pigeonholed instrument into places you wouldn’t expect it and for that, it wows me more every listen.

Recommended Track : Mesmer Mesmerising

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