Review: Mana – Seven Steps Behind

Following up from his 2017 EP on Hyperdub, Creature, Danielle Mana returns to the label for his debut album, Seven Steps Behind. While the earlier project in some ways presaged Proc Fiskal‘s 2018 Hyperdub full-length Insula, and had moments that echoed the clean-cut trap of Sami Baha, here there is a shift towards ever greater dissonance.

Some stylistic overlap is clear in the stark, spindly and subtle neo-classical synth compositions, and the often dark mood. But on this project, the rhythmic comforts that kept Mana’s sound closer to a club setting have been shed and a new, more unpredictable energy unleashed. While on Creature he bombarded your senses, on Seven Steps Behind he misleads them. And where the synth lines of that earlier EP could splutter, trip and even break down and disintegrate altogether, here they have already diffused into the atmosphere.

Collapsing centuries of western musical tradition through a black hole, Mana renders synth melodies as pianos, cellos or flutes – keeping their likeness to the instruments they emulate just approximate enough that they sound uncanny. Recordings of live instrumental sessions, meanwhile, have been edited and layered over the top, resulting in a bewildering experience where nothing is quite what it seems. We’ve dropped into a world of smoke and mirrors. Whereas there was a euphoria to his 2017 project, the crescendos on Seven Steps Behind build to no such rave epiphany. Instead, the album simply veers through odd twists and turns.

There are more straightforward moments – the second half of lead track, ‘Solo’, for example, which combines molten electronics with a dancefloor sensibility, arriving at a moody, cantering rhythm that makes for one of the album’s most recognisable beats. At other times the album recalls Clark’s ambitious 2017 Warp album Death Peak, or, such as on ‘Soaking in Water’, the grandiose melancholy of Brainfeeder producer Lorn. ‘No Body’ or the title-track, on the other hand, play like scrambled sino-grime, arriving at a place of almost frustrating dissonance.

If the irresistible emotive energy of the moments where Mana’s compositions harmonise and fall into more orderly rhythms leave you longing for more groove, then listen to Creature. This album picks up from where that EP left off, often re-capturing the same mood, but is simply weirder. It’ll be interesting to see whether Seven Steps Behind in fact turns out to be ahead of its time; there’s no doubt that this is a divisive, curious record that you’ll either love, or find self-indulgent.

Seven Steps Behind is out now on Hyperdub. Purchase here.

Words: Alex McFadyen

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