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Album Review

It took seven years for the duo of Stephen Gardner and Ben Bailes to release the follow-up to their 2001 record, Overnight, but it's a wait that ends up being well worth it, as Manifest, Chessie's fourth album, is a melodic bit of post-rock experimentation that toys wonderfully with the line between grittiness and beauty. Songs like the gentle, lovely, steady "Poughkeepsie Aflame" contrast with the sparser industrial "Farewell Diagonal" without seeming disparate, and in fact, it's the beauty of the complete album, as opposed to the strengths of its individual parts, that makes Manifest so alluring. It's a journey rather than a series of trips, a voyage of recurring themes and constants — the circular guitar lines, the soft drone of the keyboards, the chirping percussion — be it intra- or inter-track, even as the surroundings themselves — tempo, dynamics, harmony — change. That being said, there is a great deal of repetition within the album as well, both in musical phrasing and structure. The songs tend to start out simpler, quieter (though not necessarily quiet), and then slowly build, adding instruments and layers in regular intervals. Sometimes, like in "High Line," things break down into their barest elements, and sometimes, like in "Magnolia Cutoff," the arrangements reach nearly Badly Drawn Boy proportions in their ornateness. This less overt uniformity, however, helps in the continuity of the overall piece, its depiction of a passage, an excursion that crosses geographic and historical lines, from the pastoral (or post-industrial, perhaps) closer, "Hoosac," to the minimal and melancholic "Alone Together," to the (relatively) swarthy "Long Bridge." Manifest is an album that couldn't exist without an intimate awareness of American industry and the effects of it, both good and bad, an album that embraces and explores all aspects of it with equal parts vigor and depression, and ends up with truly spectacular results.


Formed: 1993 in Washington DC

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Originally treated as a side project for Lorelei bassist Stephen Gardner, Chessie was his way of experimenting with the guitar while involving his fascination with trains. Gardner started recording in 1994, toying with his six-string and assorted loops to create unique instrumental noise-pop. After Lorelei came to an end in 1996, Gardner had more time to focus on Chessie, and in 1998 Drop Beat Records released his first full-length Single Series. Continuing the relationship with Drop Beat, Gardner...
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Manifest, Chessie
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