To understand Serena-Maneesh, the Norwegian band sharing a bill with Wovenhand at the Hi-Tone Café this week, some historical context is needed.
In the mid to late 1980s, the shoegaze/noise-pop blueprint was laid down by the Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, A.R. Kane, Loop, and a handful of other bands. Then, five or six years and several releases into their career, My Bloody Valentine more or less set the gold standard with Isn't Anything (1988), only to outdo it several times over with Loveless (1991). But it wasn't a one-band game, and this period also saw amazing albums by bands such as Slowdive, Swervedriver, Ride, Lush, and Pale Saints. Later in the '90s, another wave of shoegaze (so-named because initial Brit bands in the genre tended to fixate on their effects boxes) emerged, concentrated on American bands such as the Lilys, Medicine, and Velocity Girl.
Never has an innovative and important style of underground rock enjoyed such a short stretch of post-flourish dormancy before its revivalists emerged. The late '90s were full of new shoegaze bands. But, soon, bands would cease to add a personal touch or, most importantly, memorable songwriting skills to the formula. Rather than recalling the greatest of the first Jesus and Mary Chain album, recent bands such as the Raveonettes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club seem intent on reminding listeners how bad the fifth Jesus and Mary Chain album is. Many current bands — Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Small Black, Washed Out, Crocodiles — approach this noise-pop template as a paint-by-numbers exercise, staying safely within the boundaries, coming off almost as parodies of first-wave shoegaze bands.
So what makes Serena-Maneesh different? The Norwegian troupe, assembled in 2005 by Napoleonic ringleader Emil Nikolaisen, show no fear of volume and noise. In fact, Nikolaisen shows little fear of anything. Never averse to unashamed pretention, Nikolaisen toldVillage Indian the following explanation regarding the band's name:
"'Serena' is an adaptation of the Norwegian word for veil ... you can see the melody through a stressful storm of noise. That's what I love about music — you can work with this veil. There is so much stress in the world, you know? Serena could also mean serenity, serene. There are all these connotations. Then you see glints — you see something incredible, but it's in the moment. It's through this veil. 'Maneesh' is a rewriting of the Norwegian word 'manesje,' which is the area around a stage. Sirkus Merano, remember that? We later found out it was also the Hindu Lord of the Mind. But it is more a picture .... If you look at a stage in a circus or opera, there's an area surrounding the stage containing a lot of elements. Small, subtle elements that make the stage presence that much more powerful. That's incredible. If you take that to the sound world ... the whole thing is talking about the sound elements .... For that reason, it's perfect. If ever two words conjured the elemental nature of this band's sound, they are Serena-Maneesh."
As ridiculous as it may read, such a mindset is swallow-able when associated with the music of Serena-Maneesh. Few bands of the past quarter-century have successfully combined shoegazer-informed noise-pop with an adjective like "bulldozing"; maybe Bardo Pond, Swervedriver at times, and, more recently, the consummate purveyor of this marriage, Justin Broadrick's band Jesu. But Serena-Maneesh belong in this company.
Serena-Maneesh's 2006 debut is shoegaze glory with bite. Live, the predictably beautiful band members (that's Scandinavia for you) flail their bodies around, wringing sheets of deafening and improvised noise from their instruments. It bears mentioning that such live abandon stands in direct opposition to the "noise" pop presented by a band like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Serena-Maneesh do not give audiences a clinical rendition of their studio recordings (at an ever so slightly higher volume) and do not look as though they'd prefer another activity, like making a sandwich. No, this is a band that recorded their sophomore album (this year's Serena Maneesh 2: Abyss in B Minor) in a giant cave. Literally. Why? Because they find studios to be too confining.
Serena-Maneesh With Wovenhand Hi-Tone Café Tuesday, October 12th, 10 p.m.; $10