The inadequate nature of my knowledge and exposure to punk becomes very apparent every time I spin Manikin’s latest release, Stop the Sirens. When I hear it, my head snaps back and forth and the chaotic pulse of Manikin steers me into what can only be described as a punk coma. I drool, my arms go numb, and then I get up again to flip the record. The allure of Manikin lies somewhere in their panache for necessity. They color completely within the lines of their minimal three-piece outfit. The music only diverges at moments, particularly when the horn sounds dissonant and fluttering in and out of texture. The rest is secured in a tapestry of bass and drum heavy, racing, general-sense-of-doom punk rock.
From the opening track “Rule the World”, which kicks us off with Alyse Mervosh’s raging kit and the Joy Division-esque bass work of B.J. Schindler, the mood of Sirens has been established. It has a dark and grinding feel, until the vocal and lead guitar work of Alfonso Rabago manage to crest over the top of the rhythm section with a razorblade edge. “We started the war/ shut all the doors/ set for the course/ and we’ll stop for nothing,” is sing-shouted, tracing the lines of political awareness, cultural criticism, and crisp writing that run strong through this album.
It’s not that Manikin doesn’t like our culture; they just know we could be doing so much better. “Perfect Picture”, a sarcastic rant about isolation in the Youtube age, seems ironically hopeful when Rabago and Mervosh sing “virtual culture it’s the perfect picture” and sound dangerously akin to the Sonic Youth. While “Perfect Picture” has no mystery surrounding its message of visceral punk angst, “Leaders” does a good job of clouding the vision. Abstract, obtuse lyricism pits this song against its self, and while it’s important for musicians to write poetically and symbolically — which Manikin does well on most tracks — “Leaders” and other songs like “First React” come off as elementary and ambiguous.
But for the few, minute shortcomings of Sirens, Manikin makes up for them with their maniacally paced meat and potatoes punk. To their advantage, their message seems more poignant when the band is being introspective. “Mirrors” offers a hook ripe with its own self-deprecating mantra: “my pain is love song stuck inside/ words complain, they run and hide”. It’s that sense of the song turning on itself, and Manikin’s ability to pull it off that makes the sardonic and cynical moments of this record seem revelatory.
The record sounds, as a whole, a straightforward punk expose, with flourishes here and there of trumpet and sly guitar work. Sirens gives an obvious nod towards early 80s influence with the diffused, sparse production quality typical of similar punk-rock outfits of the era. Also contributing is a curiously catchy cover of The Cure’s “Death March”. In the end, Stop the Sirens is a tried and true punk record — minus the delightfully soft closer “Later Days” — and given that it was written and recorded this year, when so many genres have been twisted and contorted to fit the labels of “indie rock”, Stop the Sirens remains inarguably authentic.