When two albums drop on the same day it can only mean one thing- Album WAR! This week, the dream-pop of Sound of Ceres’ The Twin takes on the nightmares of Marilyn Manson’s Heaven Upside Down
Heaven Upside Down
Who is Marilyn Manson even for at this point?
Nothing to take away from anyone who has ever really appreciated the artist in any degree, everyone is completely entitled to their like or dislike, but by this point his act is utterly devoid of context. So many years removed from when his music and performances shocked audiences, his latest presentation, Heaven Upside Down, is something of a nostalgia act bordering on self-parody.
Much of the angst of Fight Club was generated out of a generation lost. Tyler Durden was quoted “we have no great wars. Our war is a spiritual one.” Then 9/11 happened and we’re still in Afghanistan and Iraq and North Korea is threatening nuclear war on daily basis. Suddenly we no longer needed to philosophize about struggle and loss or aggression and rage; they are intimate, daily reminders in an increasingly shrinking globe.
Similarly, Manson’s compulsion to shock and his rabid snarl seems quaint in a world of constant warfare, desensitized to mass shootings, let alone a pasty atheist. His bleak, hopeless lyrics have lost their edge. His rage is no longer special, the despair he toils in is not exclusive. Heaven Upside Down does nothing to add or build upon a well-worn aimless angst, nor does it effectively quantify, interpret, or philosophize the darkness he cultivates.
He doesn’t have to necessarily. Articulation is not prerequisite for art, but he doesn’t seem to really “celebrate” anything either. As a result, Heaven Upside Down suffers from a middling insincerity.
Songs like “SAY10” “KILL4ME” and “JE$U$ CRI$I$” are apparently the Satanists’ version of typing “BOOBS” on a calculator in algebra class, and the content for the tracks are just as juvenile. Much the same for the album opener, “Revelation #12”, which is a bare bones scream and shout that has more in common with the Sesame Street animated short that counts to the same digit than Manson probably wants to admit. “WE KNOW WHERE YOU FUCKING LIVE” is a desperate attempt to possess a dangerous, rusted barb wire intensity but is as secure of its confidence as a divorced dad driving around in a new sports car and a toupee.
Manson closes the album with a bluesy attempt at a more straight-forward heavy rock fare in “Threats of Romance” The track certainly does not play to the artist’s strengths and exposes shortcomings in vocal range, incredibly rudimentary guitar work, and a largely uninspired arrangement that highlights Manson’s strength of persona over performance.
It may be slightly hypocritical of this review to criticize both Manson’s obsolescence and attempts to hone in on new sounds, but the attempt to produce a more commercially viable product sees the back end of Heaven Upside Down supported by dubious, rather boilerplate compositions that attempt to be both likeable and alienating and achieve neither. The titular “Heaven Upside Down” with its tambourine and keyboards appear at odds with the rest of his presentation. Rather than an evolution, it is indicative of Heaven Upside Down’s larger issue of Manson’s search for relevancy, both sonically and existentially.
Heaven Upside Down is a flavor of a flavor and bears a lazy posturing that cares more for iconography pinched off of David Bowie and other quasi-occultists than providing any actually penetrative compositions or innovative reinventions. The cover to David Bowie’s Low is reproduced on Heaven Upside Down as either an homage or rip off, depending on how generous you’re being. Manson sports a similar pose, hair, and high collar overcoat; albeit drained of any color. Fitting as Manson’s insincere offering is similarly drained off any life.
Despite the occultism that Bowie was rumored to circle in, his Berlin-era albums, like Low, still appealed to a sense of humanity. Even in despair, in rage, in contempt, in wrath there can still be effective connections to an audience. For Heaven Upside Down, Manson merely pops the collar on a jacket he could never hope to fill and if his latest release is of any indication it is because the artist no longer has a wardrobe of his own.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Standout Track: “Heaven Upside Down” There is an attentive sharpness to the title track of the album. The polish is somewhat at odds with the general tone of much of the rest of the album, but the fact that the track’s hook is positively catchy makes it a black sheep on an otherwise lackluster release.
The Sound of Ceres
The synthesized horns that open Sound of Ceres’ latest album, The Twin, offer a wonderfully polystyrene reverie to welcome in listeners. Operating more on candy floss than concrete, Sound of Ceres offer a fantastic voyage on The Twin through a soaring, twinkling atmospheric presence.
Their dream pop finds fertile acreage in the middle ground between the creativity of Radiohead B-sides and the down-tempo electronic female vocalist acts of the 90s like Sneakpimps or Portishead. Forged from gathered members of Candy Claws, the Apples in Stereo, and The Drums, Sound of Ceres charts a fascinatingly unique path dissimilar to many in their genre. Each track is given liberty to explore its own natural boundaries without much commercial constraint. What makes The Twin impressive is how Sound of Ceres still manages to keep those same exploratory tracks innately enjoyable and thoroughly easy to listen to over and over.
The Twin possess a child-like wonder that allows each track to feel like its own voyage into a unique sonic landscape. From “Solar Mirror 9” harp glissandos, the lazy horns of “Outer Century”, to the dazzling showcase of “Eden V”, Sound of Ceres were successfully in carving out an identity for each track; a feat not often seen in ambient and experimental genres. Singer, Karen Hover, drifts cloudlike in and out of heavy reverb with passages that are almost womb-like. She is able to maintain agency and provide both shape and direction for The Twin without taking too much of the attention of herself. She is the ghost in the machine on this album, masterfully navigating the otherworldly environment to which she maintain the background.
Given the looseness of The Twin’s compositions it is almost disappointing that album lacks any tracks of significant length. With every track providing a personally immersive world of its own, it is a jarring effect to be pulled in and out of the ten tracks that run thirty-six minutes in total without staying with any one composition for longer than five minutes apiece. That is not to say the duration or effort found in The Twin is to be lacking, merely that is an good album that could have been great with an extra twelve to fifteen minutes to really stretch their wingspan.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Standout Track: “Eden V” – A proper closer, “Eden V” may only be the longest track on the album by a few seconds, there is an unmistakable comprehensive feel to it. The track carries its weight well with the band effectively using the last track to make their best argument with a keyboard and/or synth arrangement that is all but synesthesia equivalent to an alien light show.
Winner of the Week: Sound of Ceres – The Twin
Sound of Ceres were able to present both an imaginative and loose album of electronic and psychedelic influences that still managed to sound new and inventive. Most importantly, The Twin was fun to listen to. There is an impressive display of creativity featured. If there were one detraction it would be that if the album could have filled out some of the tracks more extensively it would have allowed for a greater showcase of the odyssey teased at on The Twin.