May 27, 2024

WOLF MANHATTAN – ‘Wolf Manhattan’ – “a piece of artifice or just a joyful set of garage pop songs”

17 MARCH 2023

It’s an art project but an art project that is great to listen to. João Vieira has created a fictional persona, Wolf Manhattan. So far, so David Bowie. But Joao has gone on and written a book telling the story of this bedroom musician who worked in obscurity, only having his songs discovered years later. He lived alone above a local shop in New York, passing his time with his uncle’s record collection, a 4-track and an old guitar, listening to The Velvet Underground, Daniel Johnston, Jonathan Richman, Adam Green and The Shangri-Las. The result is a collection of songs about the minutiae and detail of an everyday life. So far, so Philip Larkin.

The thing is, it might all be artifice, but I like the songs and I like the sound. I actually listen to artists like this fairly often – so real or not real, the songs exist. Joao gives Wolf licence to be as confessional, playful, as fey as he likes, culminating in the super-sweet ‘Goodbye’ song at the end; played on rinkytink keys with a drum machine, Bontempi style, singing good bye to us. It never gets as awkwardly cloying as Jonathan Richman can be when he’s baring his soul but we get a sight into the character. Shame the character isn’t real.

Elsewhere we hear about writing down the ‘Voices In My Head’ in a room where “no-one knows your name”. The drum machine is a constant here and the under-powered keyboards but we get different styles. ‘Surveillance Cameras’ is pure cheesy Casio joy, while ‘Those Days Are Gone’ is a dirgey drag about finding himself in reduced circumstances, a burden on others, after happier younger years. ‘Want To Go Back’ is a garage sound for a sixties nuggets pop song. ‘Little Girl’ is a rolling indie-pop ballad, twisted by longing for someone where ‘I knew you were never mine’. ‘Tornado’ is the most nicely deranged piece, having a sort of kitchen sink quality alongside the sense of a bedroom auteur. Choruses are catchy and fit a classic pop formula, making this an easy poppy listen.

It’s a fun package, whether you take it as a piece of artifice or just a joyful set of garage pop songs.

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