Our Take: Mano Le Tough Opens Wide the Toy Chest for ‘At the Moment’

Mano Le Tough © Kostas Maros
Mano Le Tough © Kostas Maros

Ben's Take

7 Production
10 Instrumentation
9 Modes
7 Pacing
7 Lyricism
8 Execution
Mano Le Tough’s ‘At the Moment’ takes its name from its game; it makes no mistake for a missed opportunity, finding new ways to transform itself into another record with spontaneous luxury.
Stream: ‘At the Moment’ – Mano Le Tough

Top-down this is more than an aesthete’s record.

Released August 20, 2021, At The Moment takes its name from its game; it makes no mistake for a missed opportunity, finding new ways to transform itself into another record.  Repeating this album is to learn again and again that Niall Mannion (dit Mano Le Tough) can and will take his music into both confectionary and exemplary realms. It’s an eclectic electronic, jazz and hip-hop collection rendered into one cohesive showcase of music turning from minimalism to maximalism on the drop of a beat. From “Man of Aran” to “No Road Without a Turn” there is no cut without a payoff as he switches between genre and record philosophy with abandon.

At the Moment - Mano Le Tough
At the Moment – Mano Le Tough

After pursuing a glitching microhouse and instrumental hip-hop approach for the first two tracks, Mannion takes the minimal route on “Snow Bamboo.” The cut lasts only two minutes and thirty-eight seconds but every fraction of time Mano Le Tough holds sway. The light twinkle of bells, shakes of maraca and an electroacoustic guitar solo all orbit around the light falsetto of the chorus. Ambient industrial percussion sounds in the background.

“Aye Aye Mi Mi” features an electrofunk swagger brought to bear by bouncing bass phrases set upon a solid four-by-four percussive frame. Building out as a stage from there, the cut melds with Mannion’s whisper-soft vocal samples and a chopping chord change. For added flare, dashes of synth-laden melodies marvel on either ear and Mannion exchanges his voicebox for a vocoder. It’s an intricate, immaculate experience of layers that then melts into a small sound, ambient instrumental break before the resurgent beat takes back the reins.

And then it’s all wiped away by the lo fi neo-psychedelia of “Moment to Change.” When Mannion sings the eponymous lyric, he’s not joking. Collapsed upon a leisurely bass and downtempo hip hop rhythm, Mannion displaces from jangling guitar loops into a tape loop break of what can only be described as the sound of electric currents leapfrogging from eardrum to eardrum as the smoothest possible electric piano-guitar duo is layered over top.

Once again, Mannion cleans the slate. Electropop beats sneaks back into the mix, fixed by a slap-snare static and off-kilter kick. A thin guitar line dances outside of these percussive hits, pauses, and then resumes with a twinkling synthesizer patch and a bass synth dripping in funk. But forget about all of this; Mannion has places to take us and a bevy of sci-fi toys to beam us from here to anywhere in the known universe of his mind. He then discards that but for a moment to bring us back to the awkward guitar, now in a posse of equally socially inept guitars, as if they don’t know that they are being record. He then discards that to combine it all with the same synthesizers he previously moved aside.

Mano Le Tough © Kostas Maros
Mano Le Tough © Kostas Maros

It’s taken an exorbitantly long time to invent a metaphor for how this whole cut resonates. However, listen to “Fadó Fadó” and hear the sound of a musician move through his instruments with the deft, if slightly odd, logic of childlike expression. It’s a cut that sounds more and more like the aural toy story to end all toy stories with each loop. Mannion pulls out everything from his toy chest and the result is an elaborate electropop procession of melody and rhythm that I have yet to hear somebody beat.

However, he’s not done. For fans of nineties Eurodance, Mannion pulls out a more relaxed take on the sonic to produce the preferred music for a ski lodge tourism video. Here’s the thing, this all read like a parody and yet the sonic experience oozes of the effete. “No Road Without a Turn” in particular melds from this erstwhile Eurodance arpeggio ascent into a folktronica detente, with another electroacoustic guitar section broached by the samples of baby babble.

Mannion could have probably ended At the Moment on this cut, having displayed his sense of immaculate instrumentation as means for accomplished production. However, true to form, he keeps going. And unfortunately the record does lose some of its momentum here. “News Cycles” and “So Many So Silent” wax a little harder on that post-millennial ambient house taste similar to Boards of Canada and Burial. “Short Cuts” might reign us back to that ambient mixture folktronic and ambient house, but it’s hard not to feel this album missed its exit. Instead Mannion settles for a harder finish: All out electronica.

For all intents and purposes, “Together” is made to simulate a connection only found in the heat of rave approaching the early hours of the morning. Starting with a singular tap percussion, some scintillating rapid fire notes and then brought together by a heavy-duty, oscillating synthesizer and a singular word: “together,”  this song works over borrowed time to set every serotonin receptor you have on fire and much like any serotonin high the worst part is always the end. If anything, this song could have borrowed more had Mannion decided to drop its preceding trio and jump directly from “No Road Without a Turn” into “Together.” Alas, that’s not the record or the album we have.

Mano Le Tough © Kostas Maros
Mano Le Tough © Kostas Maros

At The Moment is a record of childlike proportions, not every idea works and the end product is slightly clunky.

But, for the vast majority of its runtime, the sheer imagination and ensemble of different universes colliding upon each other is well worth any price of admission. For forty minutes, Mano Le Tough is an avid, excited, abundant storyteller whipping as many instruments, tools and effects into fine form as could be possible. Everything past that can just be considered an epilogue. Regardless, it’s all to be enjoyed together, for better or for worse.

Niall Mannion’s third record turns out one of the better releases from Pampa Records. And while I’m sure the artists don’t see it this way, I feel like DJ Koze is gonna have to look over his shoulder soon if he hasn’t already; Mano Le Tough might soon overtake him.

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At the Moment - Mano Le Tough

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