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The Manichean

I’m struggling to find the words.

It’s difficult, because The Manichean is one of the most boldly original groups I’ve seen. There aren’t any similar artists that come to mind to compare and namedrop. They are young, and their youthful exuberance and sincere flaunting of rules and conventions are weapons in their arsenal. At the same time, they respect traditional instruments, history and genres while augmenting familiar sounds with modern tech. They were the only Houston band invited to participate in an acclaimed Love & Rockets tribute album, if that means anything to you.

"They" is Cory Sinclair and Justice Tirapelli-Jamail, the band’s core. Sinclair is the singer and writes the lyrics and the vocal melody; Jamail plays guitar, writes the music and directs the dedicated cast of musicians. They compose sweeping, wind-blown, epic passages with big gothic themes like death, resurrection and redemption. Occasionally, the band pauses to lightly underscore a section of Sinclair’s spoken-word poetry, like the now-locally-famous "I love you so much through kisses and cuts."

And what’s unique about The Manichean is that it’s all delivered without a shred of irony. Sinclair isn’t goofing on Jim Morrison or slam poets, he’s dead serious. And the cathedral of sound Jamail constructs to accommodate Sinclair’s dark lyrical content seems oddly reverent for a guy whose favorite comedy is 'Dr. Strangelove'. It’s refreshing, and it even has a cinematic flow. Both artists confess to being cinephiles.

Sinclair’s background is theatrical while Jamail has been playing music his whole life, so their roles as frontman and lead guitarist, respectively, come naturally. They exude confidence. And that confidence comes, in part, from the patience they employ in their artistic process. The band’s name references an extinct Gnostic sect, and there’s a sense of faith between the two collaborators that the artistic ritual of songwriting spawns results through gestation and trust.

The Manichean’s new 22-minute EP 'Whispers' took over a year to make. By now, I’m familiar with it, having heard it live a handful of times in both full electric and acoustic versions, and it feels like a little movie, albeit an epic one. It might be the most epic EP I’ve ever heard. Sinclair describes it as part of a larger narrative that they’ll expound upon.

It starts with the sound of thunder and violin with heavy reverb, heralding a driving intro. Soon, a woman’s voice announces, “And so the dream begins.” The disc’s middle section, largely anchored by Jamail on guitar, conveys a violent encounter, perhaps between two lovers, and the final track feels like an extended epilogue that crests into a bombastic anthem. Finally, Sinclair delivers the chilling closing lines over strains of violin. Those gothic themes are all in there, along with a classical elegance that underscores the very romantic subject matter.

It’s a mature, ambitious vision that feels fresh even at a time when big narrative rock seems to be making a comeback. 'Whispers' is a pace-setting release, and an auspicious debut.

“The Manichean is really just the beginning,” says Sinclair. “The important thing is the partnership between Justice and me. We might move on past The Manichean and do something different, but this is where we are right now.”

“Right now” is a kind of mantra when talking with Sinclair and Jamail about the future of their band. It’s appropriate. It evolves in the moment. The Manichean is a work in progress. One that is fascinating to watch and experience.

~Troy Shulze, 2010, Houston, TX

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