Manco serves up a style of alternative folk that at first listen is deceptively minimalistic. The core of Manco lies in his far-reaching vocal performances and easy guitar melodies. Though there are other elements to The Great Wall—primarily keyboards and drums—the common thread throughout the album is a sparse, warm sound.
The album opens with a heavy country-western slant. “Good and Low” is accented with just enough twang to be a cowboy song, with the crux of the lyrics being the limitations of time and the irony in wondering about one's own mortality. He tells us there's only enough time to love the people close to us and “leave them with a song.” This is one of the more traditional sounding songs on the album and a great way to start things off. It moves at a brisk pace but is still engaging. The track that follows “Argentina” carries much of the same feeling as the previous song in terms of sound but is decidedly slower, reflecting the more somber shift in mood.
This time Manco tells the story of someone who can't go home, and the song's ending introduces a major earmark of his style: before singing the last line an electric guitar solo comes in to add a bit of a twist on the song, giving it a brief biting moment. Though in this song it sounds a bit plain comparatively, later uses of the electric become rough, fuzzy, humming things, everything that folk is not. It's a nice choice that distances him from others in the genre, but we'll talk about them in more detail in a second.
The Great Wall does have a few upbeat moments thrown into the mix. “Wreck” is a glowing love song made all the more brighter by Larisa Montanaro's backing vocals. “Move Slow” while somewhat more ambiguous in writing than the rest of the album again falls back on the album's early country styling with a steady strum and some select picking to punctuate the end. It's a nice counter-balance: though it isn't fair to say The Great Wall is downbeat overall, these two tracks shine the most and are certainly the most uplifting.
To return to the electric guitar, each song that showcases it uses it differently, utilizing tones and textures to match or even alter the mood entirely. In “10-Speed” there's a thick layer of buzz in the song's final moments: a dense riff rises and falls in the background as a separate solo plays out on top of it, sounding much sharper and growing more frenzied before reaching the conclusion. “Hope to Gain” builds up to the chorus like a storm, cuing up the dense, buzzing electric notes like thunder. It's nice that some thought went into how best to use the instrument rather than just plopping down solo after solo.
Overall The Great Wall is a mixture of tradition with alternative embellishments. While it's not exactly genre bending, most songs have enough of a different identity from one another to keep the casual listener engaged while regular folk and country enthusiasts will find more than enough to keep them hooked.
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