Hi, everybody! It is I, your erstwhile guide into Humboldt's groovy and often chaotic world of music. On the topic of chaos, how is everyone since I last spoke to you in March? It is with utter sincerity that I hope that all of you and yours are safe and well.
Change is rarely up to 2020 levels of badness, and is sometimes remarkably good. Sometimes a radical shift is so good that you can't help but compare it to a brutal catastrophe, as if something in its DNA contains the secret to ameliorating the titanic damage inflicted by tragedy. I'm not saying an album is going to fix the fallout from this dogshit year we're all having; that's foolishness. But I will tell you White Manna has made a radical shift in sound on its new album Arc, and that shift is totally fucking thrilling.
First off, this isn't really an album in the sense that you get a tight collection of four-on-the-floor poppy psych-rock tracks. Forget about that business; the past is dead. Recorded at engineer and band member Anthony Taibi's 3D Light Studio, this album ripples and drips out of its vinyl grooves like the volcanic water birth of a new island. Tracks exist, as do extremely limited vocals by the ever-dependable David Johnson, but long gone are the concepts of sequenced tracking or frontman stylings. The band sounds like an organic body here, with drummer Tavan Anderson and bassist Johnny Webb loosening up like never before to accommodate the synth and guitar theatrics of Taibi and Johnson, which undergird a controlled trumpet explosion by guest Dominic Talvola. This thing is layered. There's even a mysterious guest named Charlie Love, who shows up to put some flourishes down on what I'm assuming is an electric guitar. It's impossible to tell — this whole thing rolls out like the third act of Akira.
I won't talk too much about titles like "Pilgrim's Progress," "Painted Cakes" and "Surfer Moron" (Dave, don't be so hard on yourself). Because tracks don't matter. The titular opener sounds like a Terry Riley outtake before the drums come in and warn us that a krautrock jam is what's coming down the tube and the entire song capsizes into rumbles and echoes. The tracks are either pretty long or very short and none of that matters because, as I said, they all become one another. The album itself isn't very long. Or is it extremely drawn out? I honestly can't tell you, because in my free time (which these days is itself vast but also contracted due to the disorienting natural laws of this pandemic) I have been playing it quite a lot and I always seem to be both listening to it expansively AND flipping the vinyl to the next side like a black flapjack on a hot and fast griddle. I really don't know what's happening anymore.
What I can tell you is there's some baffling but iconic artwork by Rachel Duffy, the design layout for the sleeve is by former Arcatan Matt Goldberg and the official release from Cardinal Fuzz Records hits Aug. 28. If you are clever, invested in good taste and lucky enough to have a few disposable dollars, I highly suggest that you bug Steve at People's Records to order you a copy. You won't be disappointed.
Anderson tells me the band had a truly great European tour lined up for this release in October but it's obviously shelved indefinitely. That sucks. But what cuts even deeper is what is happening to the live music venues here and afar as a result of this disaster. We may stand on the brink of losing our cultural expression and identities if independent venues fall. So my last words to you, dear reader, as I briefly return to my old soapbox: Consider what action you can take to preserve the unique and beautiful character of our live arts scene. In times of genuine struggle, community is our best defense against the cruelty of predatory disaster capitalism and market indifference. Hold fast — our solidarity and collective love for our community and each other is our greatest strength. It's been really nice talking with you again. Be well.
Collin Yeo (he/him) used to be a culture writer. He lives in Arcata, where he will be running for City Council in November. He likes live music and vibrant communities full of people who take care of each other.