Celebrated Hang player, percussionist, producer and composer Manu Delago releases his third solo album on 27th January. ‘Metromonk’ finds this boundary-testing artist distilling and delicately exploring extremes of dynamics and mood; manipulating the Hang in experimental and inventive ways, the many voices and tones of this rare instrument are given top billing among a minimalistic palette of beats and acoustic sources.
“I wanted to create fresh, electronic soundscapes that are generated through live performance and therefore feel organic and human”, Delago explains. Almost all of the effects on the Hang are applied live during one-take performances. “It may initially sound like programming or production, but it’s all happening there in the moment”. Additional touches come from vocalists Douglas Dare (Erased Tapes), Pete Josef (a 2016 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Award nominee) and Isa Kurz, and legendary trumpeter Erik Truffaz (Blue Note), while Matt Robertson (Björk, The Streets, Bat For Lashes) reprises his regular role as co-producer.
This new music builds on an illustrious spell for Delago, whose ambitious 2015 LP ‘Silver Kobalt’ won over tastemakers from BBC 6Music’s Tom Ravenscroft and Don Letts to Radio 2’s Alex Lester, Nitin Sawhney and Jamie Cullum (who snapped him up for a Maida Vale session), and was also loved by i-D, Clash, DJ Mag and more; the Silver Kobalt Tour boasted 80+ thrilling live shows with his band, Manu Delago Handmade. Meanwhile, the Austrian prodigy maintained his busy schedule of engagements as a go-to musician for some of the world’s leading artists. Recording and playing live with Björk, and drumming for The Cinematic Orchestra, he also co-wrote Anoushka Shankar’s ‘Land Of Gold’ LP and is a key band member on her world tour, rocking iconic concert halls, festivals and even Spain’s spectacular Alhambra Palace.
The world’s leading Hang player, Manu Delago has had over five million YouTube views and featured heavily in BBC Radio 4’s recent documentary on the instrument. While his last album saw him diversifying with multiple layers of synths, electronic production and a wide range of instruments, ‘Metromonk’ restores his virtuosic Hang playing to centre stage.
A serene atmosphere is set by a compelling vocal and Hang combination on lead single “A Step feat. Pete Josef”, before the unusual slide Hang sound on “Between Oil And Water”, ingeniously generated using a rubber mallet, is garnished with the story-telling trumpet of Truffaz. Beyond the focused, one-take immediacy of “Freeze” lies the minimalistic “Pointillism”, made up of thousands of small dots played on a muffled Hang, each triggering a chain reaction of echoes.
In its deft treatment of temperaments and dynamics, the album diverges into two sections, which Delago thinks of as the inner world of head, heart and soul versus the lively hips and feet – or, alternatively, mountains versus metropolitan city (the two main geographical backdrops to his life). This meeting of worlds is reflected in the album title, which he hit upon when he saw a Buddhist monk gliding through the busy streets of Bangkok.
We transition from the calm mountain to the hectic club down “Zebra Stairs”, the steps becoming more urgent until they blend with the bass-laced wordplay of “Abrupt feat. Douglas Dare”. Acclaimed singer Dare departs from his slower signature style to take on this uptempo track with relish, while Delago inventively uses slight shifts of his legs to form the intense Hang bassline. Luminous vocals from long-time collaborator and band-member Isa Kurz grace “Mesmer Mesmerising”, which was inspired by 18th Century physician Franz Anton Mesmer, a controversial pioneer of magnetic powers who used a glass harmonica to heal and hypnotise. “My music was often described as mesmeric, so one day I wanted to know where that word came from”, explains Delago, whose last LP was coincidentally influenced by magnets. “I was quite amazed to read about Mesmer”.
The last four tracks boast the sound of a timpani in various guises: conjuring space for the mind to wander among driving electronic beats on “Spaceful”; clashing with ugly-beautiful Hang manipulations on “Snow Screen”, a track inspired by working with Arca on tour with Björk; fulfilling its full orchestral power in “Chimp Rave”, which veers into techno territory via off-the-wall beats and Brazil-flavoured piano; and twirling with Hang and violin in the peaceful album closer.
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