Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Although recorded in Spain, Norway, New Zealand and Wales over six years with a cast of Lil' Chief artists and fellow travelers, this debut album by Scott Mannion – who came to attention with the wonderful Tokey Tones in 2003, and has lived in Spain since 2013 – holds together as a musically coherent work.
His reflective and understated lyrics follow the arc of a relationship from infatuation (“one breath of you is better than none” on the opener Smoke) through tentative reluctance (“Oh no, I'm not letting myself let this get deep”) then through doubt, decline to some kind of acceptance and finally defeat with Nine Years (“and nothing to show”).
Yet as Mannion told Elsewhere, the real life events which prompted this actually took place in something like reverse order when, after that nine-year relationship fell apart he found new love with his now-wife Julie.
Mannion's lyrics are refined down to elemental emotions and by saying less he freights them with greater, more universal meaning: “If you must go and can't see what this is I guess I'll just be your friend instead” on Be Your Mine.
These are often elegant and self-contained pop songs but what elevates this album into very different territory – as with the Tokey Tones and other Lil' Chief albums by the likes of Jonathan Bree and Princess Chelsea – is how they are wrapped in fascinating, subtle arrangements for actual string and horns alongside the solid bass (mostly by Bree) and deft touches from glockenspiel, moog and piano etc (from Mannion).
The cast of Lil' Chief helpmates also includes James (Lawrence Arabia) Milne, Chelsea, Li-Ming Hu (of Tokey Tones), Ryan (Ruby Suns) McPhun and vocalist Clara Vinals who brings a sometimes childlike innocence or counter-narrative voice to songs like the downbeat Somebody Else's Dream (“I couldn't want you more”).
Mannion's vocals sit in the middle ground of these complex but comfortable arrangements and that adds even more allure of emotional distance and fragility.
This has been a long time coming but the result is a rare, emotionally naked and yet warm-hearted album from one of our finest exports.