Natives of Chapel Hill

The Kingsbury Manx | Water Rats, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Sometimes it seems as if there is nothing new and unknown under the sun. Bands heralded as discoveries coming out of nowhere turn out to have long histories of underachievement, or are already co-opted by The Man and have the power of the industry machine behind them.

Sometimes it seems as if there is nothing new and unknown under the sun. Bands heralded as discoveries coming out of nowhere turn out to have long histories of underachievement, or are already co-opted by The Man and have the power of the industry machine behind them.

But the North Carolina quartet The Kingsbury Manx (and no, the name doesn't appear to mean anything) have quietly appeared with a hugely, and deservedly acclaimed début album and no previous form to hinder them.

Natives of Chapel Hill, rather than imports into that college town's traditionally fertile scene, their blend of late-Sixties psychedelia, downbeat Velvet Underground guitar lines, traditional folk and country forms and - more pertinently - a definite awareness of the work of present-day eclectic tamperers such as The Beta Band, makes for a potent combination.

Often mistakenly described as a chill-out record, in fact their eponymous creation isn't really that quiet at all, preferring instead to choose its level and work around it.

The Manx's first London headline show was eagerly awaited then, yet three weeks into the band's first ever tour, supporting their labelmates Calexico on a jaunt around Europe, it was obvious that the ornate, haunting harmonies of the record were unlikely to be replicated by tired throats. But there was still plenty to enjoy.

Frontmen Bill Taylor (smaller, dark hair) and Kenneth Stephenson (taller, large forehead) oddly resemble Simon and Garfunkel, both visually and sonically, especially on the gorgeous sounding, hideously titled "Piss Diary", sounding like something from the Velvets gentle third album. Stephenson's ringing slide guitar delights during "Fanfare", while the fragile, as yet unreleased "Simplicity" evokes that other gang of Southern misfits, Lambchop, pursuing The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" even down to the sweet guitar break. The Betas influence is obvious on the folkish harmonies of songs such as "Cross Your Eyes" and "Regular Hands", yet it never dominates.

Throughout, the drummer Ryan Richardson and Scott Myers, switching between keyboards and bass, provide sympathetic backing. As the set continues, it's clear that vocal problems are threatening to overwhelm the band, as they tentatively feel their way around songs such as the excellent "Fields", and don't re-emerge for a requested encore after concluding with Taylor and Stephenson's duet of "Drift Off". (A pity, as apparently they had earlier threatened to close with an AC/DC cover...)

But a half-strength Kingsbury Manx did enough to reinforce their reputation. Certainly this is a band that is decent enough already and only likely to get better, easily proving that there's more than one way to be dynamic.

Comments