Musically And Lyrically Unique, ‘Manifestra’ Asserts Independence
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 23:01
Classified as a folk artist, Erin McKeown is, actually, by no means so easily explicable. The musical artistry on McKeown’s seventh and latest release, Manifestra, is equally as autonomous as the artist is herself. She is bound neither by commercial, stylistic trends nor by confining classes of genre because she writes, records, and produces her work entirely on her own, making her a genuine independent in the music industry.
Manifestra is innovative both musically and lyrically. With a curious and adventurous spirit, McKeown blends folk, pop, rock, blues, and jazz elements to craft a record that is unique in its form, but entirely cohesive in its nature. The singer-songwriter approaches her lyrics with a similar attitude. Thus, Manifestra consistently finds McKeown philosophically and politically criticizing society with her sarcastic wit. Together, both the melodic and lyrical components of her songs complement each other, for while the former is polished and smooth, the latter is brazen and sharp. But both are wholly unique. The result is a record that is perfectly balanced and brilliantly unpredictable.
McKeown utilizes her lyrical voice as a voice of commentary most effectively in songs such as “The Politician,” “The Jailor,” and “Baghdad to the Bayou.” For example, in “The Politician” her bluesy vocals spit biting lines like, “If nobody knows, tell me what’s the crime? / Between me and God, tell me what’s the crime?” as she questions corruption and political injustice. Soulful and rhythmic, “The Jailer” allows McKeown to deliver a similarly razor sharp message of audacious sovereignty, as she taunts, “You can’t keep us out.” Manifestra’s closing track, however, is the most politically influenced. Co-written by Rachel Maddow from MSNBC, the song, with its classic, New Orleans jazz vibe centers on the Deepwater Horizon disaster of the Gulf Coast.
Aspects of Manifestra, such as the jazz structures in the former song, make McKeown’s music incredibly singular, and though these idiosyncratic experimentations generally work in her favor, there are times when her efforts actually seem to be too contrived. The basic, driving riff and jamming sax solo of “Manifestra,” for example, work, but in the song, she employs a sing-talk method that just comes off awkward. Though poetic, the sliding cadence of her vocals is apparently forced. The musical risks McKeown takes in “That’s Just What Happened,” however, are entirely successful. The track could easily be taken as two separate pieces: the first sultry and brooding and the second jaunty and romping. Swinging back and forth between its two different identities, it is enigmatically captivating.
McKeown even manages to entrance her listeners with her more traditionally arranged songs, such as “Delight/Divide” and “Proof.” Basic and delicate, “Delight/Divide” is quite reminiscent of Regina Spektor’s style, with its twinkling, sparkling keys and sweet, swelling cellos. Likewise, “Proof” relies on a simple piano progression, and though it is the most mainstream track, the ballad is still unique, considering its company.
Both “Histories” and “Instant Classic” possess a comparable pop quality to them, but because they have other defining elements, they stand out from the other tracks . The persistent yet playful handclaps and bright, electric guitar rift of “Histories” aren’t pop innovations in and of themselves, but McKeown’s use of these components certainly is. The song “Instant Classic” is effective in the exact same way. Its charming, skipping guitar melody and deep horns make the song sound like a track from a Jason Mraz record. Inviting Ryan Montbleau to sing alongside her, though, McKeown actually makes “Instant Classic” her own by sharing it.
McKeown’s Manifestra is quite literally what it claims to be—an inimitable, blunt, and feminized manifesto. It encapsulates the artist’s musical and lyrical independence and allows her to both playfully express herself and seriously share her societal perspectives. Her Manifestra is an admirable work of irony, wrapping the sharp truth in poetic verses and sweet melodies, and delivering it all with a seemingly harmless smile.