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It is perhaps with a combination of irony and hyperbole that Berkeley, CA avant-garde artist Dominic Francisco, AKA Gilman Mom, titled his second LP (following 2016’s I Forgot to Tell You) Manifest Destiny. For while that term – used to describe U.S. exceptionalism to justify its expansion across North America in the 19th century – conveys brashness and overconfidence, Francisco’s abstract, esoteric music is, by contrast, cautious and apprehensive. Like a tape-recorded diary set to surreal, spooky sound collages, Manifest makes us feel like we’re prying into someone’s most private, painful emotions. Its 11 tracks trail Francisco through a trying, tormented evening as he traipses through Berkeley in a driving rainstorm, following some sort of altercation with his lover. Addressing that person in the LP’s release notes, he admits, “This album isn’t for you so much as it is for me. I needed a way to document my circular thought process.” Francisco accomplishes this by blending pacifying yet portentous field recordings (often replicating the nature noises that he hears around him), manipulated and sampled spoken word snippets, and spare instrumentation that always sounds like it’s five rooms away.
For example, on the opening “Right Person Right Time,” relaxing sounds of a drenching downpour and cars whizzing by on a wet highway are accompanied by dim, dreamlike keyboard drones that recall dreary department store Muzak, disjointed carnival fun house organs, and distant church bell chimes, while “Houndstooth” puffs like an old train’s steam engine and “Samson” huffs like a breathless asthmatic’s inhaler. On each, slowed-down, Satan-esque voices sporadically surface (repeatedly asking sanity-searching questions like, “What did you do to me? Why can’t I remember you?” or providing reassurances that “everything is going to be okay”), conveying Francisco’s despairing and discombobulated state of mind as he attempts to diagnose his desperate situation.
However, Francisco also says that he wants Manifest to “feel like a walk of self-reflection that blossoms into realization.” The Asian-tinged “Fool’s Gold,” with harp-like orchestration accented by rippling creeks, far-off claps of thunder, and chirping crickets, finds his demeanor changing from confusion to clarity. Rambling in a helium-ingested voice, he begins to see things from his partner’s perspective. This therapeutic transformation continues on “Ego Death.” Like a monotone self-help guru soothingly reciting positive-thinking daily affirmations, he recognizes his shortcomings and his suitor’s role in helping him see them, confessing, “The storm of self-indulgence fades.” Granted, because Manifest’s storytelling structure is so shadowy and sinuous, each listener will interpret its meanings differently. In that respect, picking such a frequently-analyzed phrase for the album’s moniker makes perfect sense. (macaquerecords.com, gilmanmom.bandcamp.com)
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