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Serena-Maneesh - S-M Backwards

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Artist: Serena-Maneesh

Album: S-M Backwards

Label: Smalltown Supersound

Review date: Sep. 23, 2008

Serena-Maneesh do a lot of repackaging for a band whose songs don’t change all that much. It would hardly be worth mentioning for a different sort of band – a DFA act, say, or Phish – but this one’s musical parameters neither extend very far nor lend themselves particularly well to remix treatment. Compared to their most loudly cited influence, that paragon of dormancy My Bloody Valentine, all Serena-Maneesh’s singles and remixes are starting to clock in at comical disproportion to the diversity of their core catalog.

The two-disc set S-M Backwards unites 2002’s Fixxations EP and Zur†ck, a retrospective spanning from 1999 to 2003, in what is presumably the authoritative arrangement (both have appeared before, in slightly different incarnations, as obscure Norwegian releases). Fixxations runs the glam-fuzz gamut, swiping as much from Yo La Tengo as from the shoegaze scene, while Zur†ck (formerly Zurück) reaches back to the band’s swirly, diffuse period and is arguably more appealing than anything they’ve done since. Roughly half the songs on both come in two versions, a mix named after a city and a “real” one; the most intriguing part of this, and maybe of the whole release, is that the remixes are sequenced before the original songs.

That’s a weirdly audacious move, if you think about it, but it’s hard to find an angle from which it reflects favorably on the band. The biggest problem is that the songs are not stripped to skeletons and repurposed with different ideas, or even different sounds; they’re merely left as they were and coated in a few more layers of blear and treble. Because there is seldom any substantive variation between the remix and its original counterpart, hearing the remix first demonstrates above all that the remix is unnecessary, which gives the whole affair the feeling of listening to the same album twice, once broadcast by an ice cream truck and then again through normal speakers. There are pleasant surprises among the single tracks, like the serene rumble of “Ballad of Jezebel,” but it’s impossible to tell whether they’re as-is numbers or post-production artifacts.

It’s the fact that there’s so little distance from one to the other that’s unsettling, and that points to a gap between the band Serena-Maneesh present themselves as and the band they are. They would have you believe their songs are durable, melodically complex beings that can withstand being pulled apart and reassembled, or even tackled from a totally unexpected direction (think what Japancakes’ full-album cover did for Loveless). In reality, the songs are delicate and particular, usually successful because they’re recorded just so. It’s a safe move to change the distortion to a slightly different kind of distortion, but it’s not a remix, and it’s certainly not worth paying extra for.

All this is symptomatic of a certain preening excess, one that would suit the band better if they cultivated it musically instead of commercially. For a handful of solid pop songs, S-M Backwards adds nothing good to our conception of Serena-Maneesh, historically or otherwise. It’s a boon for the deeply interested, but it fails to make the case for its own existence.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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