Back in the early aughts, when Adam Busch recorded under the name Manishevitz, he seemed to take on a new guise every time he made a record. You might get shut-in acoustic strum or strutting Roxy Music redux, but at least you wouldn’t get the same album twice. Nowadays he records nearly under the radar with Sonoi, a trio that also includes ex-Manishevitz bassist Ryan Hembrey and drummer Pierce Doerr, and all that style-hopping has been melted into an alloy stronger than anything he used to do. It helps that he’s gotten his voice completely under control, corralling his once-wayward hiccups into the same harness with a well-developed croon that rolls effortlessly through econo-Verlaine guitar fills, creaky keys, and pleasantly hollow electronics. Michael Krassner, who has added vertiginous depth to some of Califone’s records, stirs a weightier, less psychedelic sense of space into the mix. Not much pop glides like this these days.
“beautifully composed, radiating folk-pop"
Sonoi reels you in mostly with wonder and curiosity; it doesn’t quite bang you over the head, but allows you sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s relaxing and contemplative, like a boat sailing on calm waters—with all that potential life like a school of trout bubbling just beneath the surface.
SONOI Singer and guitarist Adam Busch first outed himself as an art-rock Anglophile on 2003's City Life (Jagjaguwar), the third album by his old band Manishevitz. On songs like "Private Lines" and "Hate Ilene," Manishevitz used Roxy Music-style flamboyance to frame tales of early-adulthood insecurity—a combination no less effective for its paradoxical nature. On Sonoi (Meno Mosso), the self-titled debut CD by Busch's new trio with bassist and keyboardist Ryan Hembrey (a fellow Manishevitz alum) and drummer Pierce Doerr (a composer for This American Life who's also done some mean cooking for the Hideout's Soup and Bread nights), his lyrics are boiled down to a few cryptic images; as though to fill the resulting space, the music draws on a broader range of vintage British influences. On "Anchor Tattoo," the way Hembrey uses his bass to trace meandering lines across a backdrop of undulating synths and patiently evolving drum patterns reminds me of the moodier moments on Japan's Tin Drum. The droll horns on the recurring instrumental "R Pryor" would sound right at home on a Robert Wyatt album, and the tension between motion and stasis on the album closer, "Friends in Dry Places," recalls Brian Eno's collaborations with Cluster. But while it's nice to be reminded of records I already like, what keeps me coming back to Sonoi is the way it makes those familiar spacey sounds into something unfamiliar—it's like hearing someone tell me his half-remembered dream about a place I've been before.
“It's vital and provocative, lyrically and musically, and it reveals itself further with each subsequent listen. It's already the soundtrack to the human experience, as intangibly surreal as it seems and as ultimately realistic as it gets. No, it's more than that. It's everything you've ever heard and nothing you've ever heard, at once. Just like each moment of life, which is everything you've ever experienced and nothing you've ever experienced, at once.
“…blending eerie acoustic folk with a gauche art-glam flair of honking sax, aged synths, lush guitar and Busch’s … lilt…you find a band with many fine influences pinned to their sleeves, but, ultimately nothing to declare but their own lunatic creativity.”
All Music Guide 4and ½ Stars
“Once you get over the shock of the way the band sounds, you realize that the songs have remained as strong as before. In fact, the new approach musically meshes with a hookier, more effusive brand of songwriting…fans of the band will be swayed by the stellar songwriting and the wild energy of the music, because City Life is a very good record.”
Tiny Mix Tapes
In addition to the title song and the aforementioned “Beretta,” which both RULE, the individual-track-minded listener should seek out “Mary Ann” and “Private Lines.” Exuberant and sophisticated, these cuts stand alongside the very best music in the glam tradition this side of Country Life.