Manic Mundane – ‘Narrative Three’ EP review: brooding electro-pop portraits of loneliness and loss

Written by on 15/03/2022

Manic Mundane Narrative Three review

For every song that attempts to conceal themes of despair with a chirpy melody, there’s another tune that’s entirely comfortable wallowing in the gloom. Filipino singer-songwriter Kath Dizon takes the latter route on ‘Narrative Three’, her debut EP as Manic Mundane that’s replete with anguished wailing, moody instrumentation and inward-looking lyricism.

Is this the sort of emotive record that resonates with listeners or the kind that comes across as tedious and whiny? ‘Narrative Three’ is both these things, but there is a clear-eyed consistency in the project that suggests it’s not the DIY producer’s first foray into music, though it’s billed as a debut. The 31-year-old fronted a punk band in college, then fell in love with electronica and played small gigs around Dubai while holding down an advertising job in the city.

But making music on the side couldn’t stave off career burnout, and Dizon eventually quit the day job she held for six years and flew back to the Philippines in early 2020. The South Cotabato-based artist’s homecoming was dampened by the start of the lockdowns, but her solo project Manic Mundane eventually took flight.

This perhaps informs the undercurrent of restless and lonely anxiety on ‘Narrative Three’. Its songs are pleas for relief, Dizon chanting in opener ‘Astral Bodies’: “Take a flight / Call your demons out… Take a breath in the dark… Oh we’ll leave this place and break away”. Twinkling arpeggiated keys, frenetic synths, and haunting harmonies colour what’s easily one of the strongest songs on the EP. It’s also one of three initial songs – or “narratives” as the artist calls them – that ended up split into five tracks (a sixth bonus track ‘Morphine’ is available when you purchase the EP on Bandcamp, and on its cassette tape release).

The songs on ‘Narrative Three’ are linked by ethereal flourishes and beefy synth- and electro-pop-inflected arrangements. Dizon credits her co-producer – UDD live sound engineer Sho Hikino, who mixed and mastered the album – for polishing and filling in creative gaps. While it’s difficult to pinpoint where Hikino’s fingerprints end and Dizon’s begins, what’s apparent is how the songwriter consistently wears her sorrows on her sleeve.

This lyrical and atmospheric dourness is magical in ‘Awake/Solitude’, where an ominous bassline ushers in Dizon’s reverb-soaked voice as she cries out: “These days / I stay awake / My palm is fading / We’re on our own”. But not so much in the cloying ‘Lover’, where an impending break-up leaves her “soul-searching in the rain” and pleading, “My lover / Oh please don’t say goodbye / You make me feel alive.”

The misstep recurs on ‘Pavements’, where initial verses (“I couldn’t get away from the voices inside my head”) come off trite and tedious. Thankfully, Dizon salvages the song by externalising these “voices” through a cacophony of banshee-like wails, thrashing drums and trilling guitars. It’s in these gloriously layered, show-don’t-tell moments that her music shines.

In stark contrast, the stripped-down ‘Spring Waves’ closes the EP, a track superior to ‘Lover’ in articulating loss. “I guess I’ll dream of you / And fall into the colours of your hand…The hurricane is coming down / My love will carry through the tide,” the artist assures over mournfully tender keys – and here, the feeling lingers.

The moniker Manic Mundane turns out to be an apt way to summarise the accomplishments of ‘Narrative Three’: there are touches of frenetic brilliance on the record, but it’s hindered by plodding repetition. Still, the record is a sharp portrait of loneliness and loss, and a formidable introduction to Kath Dizon.

Details

Manic Mundane Narrative Three review
  • Release date: February 22
  • Record label: Melt Records

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