Ah, doom jazz. It’s perhaps the only genre I know of that in reality is a complete misnomer. It has elements of jazz and doom yet it really doesn’t fit in either genre. Doom jazz is just that, doom jazz. It’s a fascinating genre that has its own way of telling stories, and that’s what I really want from a genre. So how does doom jazz tell stories? What makes it different from another musical genre? What are the stories that doom jazz tells? To answer these questions, I’m going to turn to my favorite doom jazz outfit from Norway, Manet. Just last month he put out a new album called Devour. If you recall, Manet was the first authentically doom jazz project that I listened to. I’ve since listened to several more, include the big one, Bohren & der Club of Gore. And even though my iTunes is now full of doom jazz, I still have to come back to Manet. This is the project that I feel most connected with, it’s the one I understand the most and it’s the one that still brings me back for more.
My first question for the album, as is my first question for most albums, is “what is the story?”. Devour is a very tranquil and peaceful album, very much at odds with the title itself. That makes me question what devour means in the context because, as we know, context is everything. So what does devour mean in this context? What is Manet saying about the term? I have a theory, don’t I always? My theory is the album is the story of someone dying of the plague. Yes, that plague. With song titles like “Norwegian Horror Saga,” “Delirious and Devoured,” and “Doctor Schnabel von Rom” the theory doesn’t sound too farfetched. Despite being a tranquil album, Devour is dark. It might take a few listens to catch on, but it’s there. Listen to this album multiple times, I will get that thought out of the way now, this is album that requires time and thought. It’s like an old red wine, it takes time to appreciate all the nuances and subtlies. If you gulp it down like a pleb you’re not going to get anything but drunk.
Circling back, Devour is the intimate story of someone dying of the plague. They contracted the disease and slowly, painfully, its eating them alive (pun intended). What really conveys the emotional connection between artist and artwork is the instrument or instruments used. In the case of Manet it’s the piano that takes the bulk of the work. That was a stroke of genius really. The piano is the king of instruments. Like no other instrument, the piano has the ability to play across the entire emotional spectrum. It has every sound, note, and melody you could ever need. Why it’s not used more often is a mystery to me but that’s another digression. Manet uses the piano to instill a sense of intimacy, a sense of understanding. Yet the central character is still kept at arm’s length. Whether that is because the artist has chosen to or the character has is a mystery, but it’s largely irrelevant. The important thing is we see that the character is dying and what he (or she) is going through as the darkness starts to take over. The music has a very noir feel to it.
I feel like this album could also cover as a film soundtrack for a low budget neo noir film. It’s dark, beautiful, and devastating when you know what the album is about. It’s heart breaking yet at the same time it’s oddly uplifting. Maybe it’s just me but I felt as though the album is the grieving process for the dying character. We, get anger, fear, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. The character is coming to terms with inevitability of their death, a painful ungraceful death I might add. There are some beautiful saxophone solos on the album too, played by guest musicians that understood exactly what the theme of the album was and gave their own interpretations of it. In that way, Devour is much of a jazz album than was the previous opus, Dark Side of the Valley. It feels more improvised and more collaborative. Each musician that works on the album knows the theme, knows the general direction the album needs to go so they all take their own way of getting there.
The album ends where we know it has to. “End Credits” feels on the nose but completely accurate. The music slows to an even greater crawl; the music was never fast paced to begin with. Every moment is accentuated and drawn out, each emotion comes to its full cycle.
Devour is the best album that Manet has made thus far. It’s the most nuanced, the most honest, the most lyrical and talented. Manet has improved with each release, Devour is the culmination of talent and vision. A true piece of songcraft that everyone should be aware of. Manet might never be as pig and popular as Bohren but that is by no means a declaration of talent. Manet has a deep, rich soul in their music. Devour has been the best at showcasing that soul with its melancholic melodies. From all the doom jazz I’ve ingested, this has been my favorite. Devour is an album you need in your collection, no matter what music you listen to.
Highlights: Norwegian Horror Saga, Past the Aphelion, Zygomatic Bones for Days
If you enjoyed this try: Phonothek, The Sarto Klyn V, Detour Doom Project
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