One year ago: I'm sifting through the used bins in a Long Beach indie record shop, yearning for some discounted aural ecstasy among everybody else's rejects. The music-editor gig isn't going well—most of my office time is spent trashing phone messages and e-mails from hapless record-label publicists wanting me to scribble about their latest factory-pressed Nu Metal band. The CD racks are loaded but only with unlistenable dreck. Is it a law that all used-CD stores have to stock a hearty supply of Jimmy Buffett discs?
And then, epiphany: what I really want is whatever is blaring over the shop's sound system. It's . . . beautiful. It's . . . moving. It's got soul, heart, feeling, enchantment and mystery. It sounds like Pink Floyd with a Hammond B-3 organ, like Mazzy Star with boy singers, like Grandaddy and the Velvet Underground and Damien Jurado: unearthly, mellow music for a rapid-fire world, perfect for funeral marches, bedtime lullabies or heroin binges. It's surreal; it's sweet; it's triumphant; it's haunting. . . . It's music I must have. Now!
So I ask the snotty clerk with the Rivers Cuomo glasses what he's spinning, and he tells me it's this band called the Kingsbury Manx. But he doesn't know anything about them, and no wonder: the CD has no band photos and lists no members. There's only some minimalist cover art of a house perched on a cliff overlooking an abyss, a short rundown of thank-yous, an engineering date, an artwork credit, a label address and a track listing. Open the gatefold and . . . you find blank white paper. Don't these people even have a half-assed website? Who the hell are the Kingsbury Manx, goddamn it?!?
Not Kingsbury Manx
I buy a copy a couple of weeks later—the clerk wouldn't sell me his, since it was the only one in stock. (Record-store employees are jerks like that; I know: I used to be one.) And I soak in the Kingsbury Manx's 12 songs. The titles don't seem to have much to do with the lyrics. The chorus of a tune called "Piss Diary" goes, "Sweet autumn leaves seem to long for the pre-garden days," whatever that means. There are surreal Beach Boysesque harmonics and layered John Lennon-post-Beatles bits of quasipsychedelia, laced with what sound like violins and cellos but are probably just Casio-filtered imitations. There are steel-guitar licks picked slowly with a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard crawl. There's a song called "Blue Eurasians," a seven-minute epic instrumental that makes you feel like you're trapped inside a film score, which then drifts into a nearly a cappella piece called "Hawaii in Ten Seconds," which sounds like it's eerily emanating from a 1940s radio broadcast.
It's a weird album, but damn, music this weird and enigmatic never sounded more resplendent.
If you wanna know more about the Kingsbury Manx, go do a Internet search. I'm glad I don't know anything about 'em, and I'm really happy that I don't know what they look like, especially in this image-conscious age when how musicians look matters more than the sounds they make. They might have stupid spiked hair and titanium piercings jutting from their faces, but I don't want to know—as long as they keep making records like the one I've got. So look for me at the House of Blues on Friday. I'll be the one listening to the band, not watching them.
Assuming that the Kingsbury Manx are a band . . .
The Kingsbury Manx perform with Calexico on the Rose Terrace at the House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Fri., 10 p.m. 21+. $10. All ages.