If you follow local music closely, you're probably already aware of the mystery surrounding The Kingsbury Manx. All of a sudden, they showed up, seemingly out of nowhere, with a CD full of lush, droning melodies; sad, lovely lyrics; and perfect vocal harmonies that immediately put to shame most of the current local pop music crop. A look at the CD itself offers few clues as to who this band is: No band members are listed; local producer Jerry Kee recorded the CD, but he did so in Chicago, which is also home to Overcoat Recordings, a new label put together by an employee at the revered Thrill Jockey label. Conflicting reports from their publicist state they grew up together either in Greensboro or Wilson and moved to Chapel Hill for college. There's no mention of previous bands--and in this area, where bands often live or die depending on what bands their members used to be in, the fact that they've garnered so much attention is actually pretty amazing.
It's also a testament to exactly how good this CD is. Pre-Wall Pink Floyd has been mentioned as a possible influence, as has Pet Sounds, and pretty much anything by Stereolab and Yo La Tengo. The melodies are delicate and ethereal, but often drony--thanks to a keyboard sound that tends to remain understated and in the background. The guitars are clean, and thanks to a little lap steel work here and there, slightly twangy. There are at least two main vocalists (both male) who often sing together in a dreamy monotone. Their vocal talents are especially evident on "Hawaii in Ten Seconds," a short (1:30) a cappella barbershop quartet tune that creepily floats in like a weird accidental transmission from outer space.
Now none of this is really unusual in local pop. Several groups around here are perfecting a cleaner, more melodic sound, and a few are making good use of drone. But no one, really, is mixing these elements with such consistent success as The Kingsbury Manx. That's probably because, if what little we know about them is true, they've been at this for years, since a young age, and they've had ample time to think about and perfect their sound. Whether you care about who they are or not, the fact is, this album is stunning from start to finish, and there's no mystery behind that.