From the slow, watery opening, the sound of Manual — comprised of producer Jonas Munk and vocals by Maja Maria — builds and builds. Listening to Azure Vista is like standing in a waterfall or under a dam that’s just burst.
This is huge electronica, expansive and sweeping. It builds up it crescendos with no decrescendo. You think you’re on a sonic plateau until you realize Munk’s just stopping for air before taking you a step higher and then higher again. And then he brings you down ever so gently with tinkling guitars before the wall of sound cuts back in. It’s a gorgeous ride, it really is.
Munk’s sound is quite distinctive. It’s electronic music that is the stepchild of shoegazer bands such as Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, and a bit of that big, eighties overproduced pop such as “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or “Take My Breath Away.” Munk owes a little slice of his sound to Jim Steinman and his ilk, but somehow that reference point is not as uncool as it sounds. Manual’s sound is what that eighties pop fell short of: the full realisation of that cathedral of sound, the swirling layers that rip your heart out and stamp on it gracefully. And that’s only opener “Clear Skies Above the Coastline Cathedral.” Rarely does electronica feel so visceral, so big, so natural and wild. In his compositions, Munk has a way of evoking sunsets and mountain ranges and oceans and redwood trees and stars and the universe.
“Summer of Freedom” is a bit darker, chugging along but then darting like a furtive animal in the woods. The music snaps between bass and a shimmering wall of noise, and it just keeps building. Munk takes it down a notch for the middle tracks, letting us breathe a bit. These tracks swim around in your head, tiny fingertips caressing your body as the music snowfalls around you. Throughout this album, just like on his other works as Manual, Munk has a way with tension between sonic forces — bringing us up and slowing us down in a controlled yet maniacal dance between converging walls of sound. Munk uses guitars and synthesisers/sequencers/samplers and the voice of Maja Maria to create his sublime soundscapes.
From his full-lengths, his 2001 debut, Until Tomorrow, and 2002’s Ascend; to his versions on the Morr Music tribute album to Slowdive, 2002’s Blue Skied an’ Clear; to his collaborative work with Jess Kahr and Jakob Skott (a.k.a. Syntaks), Munk is blurring lines between ambience and stadium rock. The tones Munk uses, the way he manipulates them, the construction of the songs themselves, show that he has a distinct ear. We should be thankful he is sharing his aural visions with us. They’re that special.