Mantler is Chris A Cummings. He hails from Toronto and his previous releases Doin’ It All, Sadisfaction and Landau garnered him a favorable reputation as an eclectic indie artist with a smooth flare for 1980’s samplers, late 70’s / early 80’s R&B, soul, hi-fi rock, jazz and intelligent lyrical elocution. On his fourth release via Tomlab, Mantler sets out to combine the best elements of his earlier efforts into Monody, an album the artist himself aims to fall somewhere between Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Archie Sheep’s Attica Blues. Six of Mantler’s silky smooth think-joints are produced by long time associate Zack G Elsewhere. Producer Leon Taheny and Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan (Final Fantasy, Bruce Peninsula) take the helm on a couple tracks as Owen Pallet (formerly Final Fantasy) organizes the brass arrangement for a few. Over a dozen high caliber guest artists later, Mantler should be ready to put on a mighty fine exhibition. And he does.
Mantler’s vocals form a hybrid of the softer sides of TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Röyksopp’s Torbjørn Brundtland. “Fortune Smiled Again” opens with jazz flutes, hand drums and gentle keys. As the song transitions, a light, clean tone guitar and drum kit come in and Mantler’s vocals put a smooth glaze over the composition. Cummings sings “We are fields / empty to be filled,” giving the song a pensive, thought provoking allure that sutures itself to the soulful slow jam instrumentation. Again, on “Author” lyrical consciousness is combined with smooth-as-butter keyboards. Rather than pulling out uninspired lyrics about failed romance, Cummings delivers thoughts on theater and literature: “Like a face bares a noble expression / it’s not the words you love / it’s the voice of the author / it’s not the story spoken / but the impression furnished.” As most of Monody unfolds, the blend of jazz, soul and R&B of the late 1970’s and early 80’s meshed with Cummings’ carefully crafted lyrics creates a melodious platform of sad yet soulful slow jams.
“Breaking Past and Day” moves at a faster pace akin to mid 80’s urban dance synths and high arching keys, and the horn arrangements on “In Stride” prove to be the best arranged brass on the album. As the title track “Monody” leads into “Fresh and Fair” a genius fifteen seconds of ambiguous tunneled sounds transition into an intelligent, semi-electronic R&B number reminiscent of Jamiroquai’s “You Give Me Something” or Junior Boys’ So This is Goodbye. The slight effect on Cummings vocals has him sounding a bit like Peter Gabriel and the overall outcome is a light, crisp intelligent funk.
The word monody has a few meaning but Cummings aims for its use as “a sad melody,” and in that sense of the word Mantler’s lyrical clarity coupled with his blossoming instrumentation succeeds.
by: Bene Garcia