EP Review : Sinnet / Midwest Manners
Reviewed by: Dorise Gruber
2012 is already shaping up to be the year of atmospheric rock, and Midwest Manners, the debut EP of local artist Sinnet, is no exception. Spearheaded by Aaron Spransy, his liquid silver voice threads songs both tormented and lighthearted in a way only a Midwest-to-East Coast transplant’s could.
Of the seven songs on Midwest Manners, most of the cuts toe the same line. The album’s tone is set with opener “Paper Chandeliers,” a modernized synth-laden soul, reminding me a bit of Josh Ritter in its singer/songwriter style. It flows into “Castlevania,” which could be the Transylvanian theme song for Sesame Street’s “The Count” if he wore plastic-rimmed frames and his cape were made of plaid. On this track, steady drums build structure around eerily playful synth hooks.
The third song on the album, “Let’s Play Poison,” is a total departure from the rest of the album’s sound. It’s the kind of song you might’ve heard on alternative radio in the late 90s, or perhaps would have been nestled into the Can’t Hardly Wait soundtrack. While I realize the reference I’m about to make is so obscure you’re not even going to be able to look it up on the internet because it predates Myspace and the ubiquity of Google, I’d be remiss not to mention this song’s striking vocal similarity to a *very* local Milwaukee high school band popular to suburban kids in the late 90s. And while I realize saying that the song sounds like the band Last Flight Home means diddly to most of you, since Spransy is from the Milwaukee area, I’m tickled to think he may have drawn inspiration from these guys when we were all kids. Indeed, if any of the songs on this album are true to the sound of a creature that grew up in the Midwest, it’s this one. As alternative throwbacks begin to make their resurgence, songs like this are leading the pack with their dead-on execution – it makes me gooey with nostalgia.
“Everything Went Pear-Shaped” and “Playing the Skeleton Keys” return to the original vibe of the album. In the first, you really get to appreciate the pureness of Spransy’s vocal tone in the haunting melody. The second is lyric-free, but still absorbent in its spooky-groove. Dark and steady, this track conjures trippy images of glitter swirling in a glass of water, or perhaps of snow fluttering steadily at your windshield on a late-night drive. It is an entrancing interlude.
“Be My Baby” is the EP’s only cover song, and a smart take on the old Motown classic. Sinnet makes the song current and a little more pleading, but doesn’t lose the charm of the original. It also makes me wish someone would ask me on a date to the soda shoppe.
The album floats into finale “Silver Line the Silver Lining,” which picks up where “Playing the Skeleton Keys” left off. In a weird way the song reminds me a bit of Blondie’s “Call Me” in melody, or at least until Spransy opens his mouth, anyhow. His signature synth/organ/bell sound wraps the song and permeates the majority of this EP with his distinct blend of singer/songwriter electronica.
According to Sinnet’s bandcamp site, the EP was recorded in random bedrooms and practice spaces through just two mics and a laptop. This may not be a highly produced EP, but what it lacks in polish it makes up for tenfold in songwriting. The songs are complex and gripping, eager to spill into the realm of spectacular. Crafted without the aid of any newfangled recording toys, Spransy has still managed to create a beautiful record with a clear picture of where he stands as an artist. This is a guy you’re going to want to watch out for, and if you want to know what’s best about local artists, picking up the Midwest Manners EP is essential.
To get a taste for yourself, swing by the EP release party this coming Saturday, February 4th, at the Middle East Upstairs. Playing with Soft Pyramids, Diamond Mines, and One Happy Island, the first fifty attendees will earn themselves a free copy of the new disc. For more deets, check the Facebook event page!