Described as anti-folk, Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts drop Manhattan, the seventh release on Rough Trade and his eighteenth since 2001’s Songs from Austin! Whether it is singular vignettes depicting insights into the inner workings of Jeffrey’s neighbours or reflections on his own journey through life’s events, the sounds and the characters of Manhattan are centrally woven into each track. Clearly the album could have no other name.
I was unaware of Jeffrey Lewis so I came to this album with no baggage of expectations. What I found is an album that is captivating from the first track, sending you into a lyrically dense, detailed, detached and at times derailed journey through Lewis’ hometown and its occupants. Discovering that He is also a comic book artist and author gives the listener further insight into the narrative style of the tracks here and the dry wit that Lewis secrets away into the lyrics that helps keep you gripped.
This is all evidenced in the opening track, ‘Scowling Crackhead Ian’. Soundbites of the hustle of the city and Jeffrey’s laconic drawl lamenting the reconnection with a dodgy character from his youth, growing into middle age in parallel but worlds apart. “Forever you’ve been crackhead Ian, It was your kid nickname if we spoke it, You were an insane human being, Whether you ever did or did not smoke it” – And that’s something that prevails through all his songwriting on this album, the imagery is so perfectly clear that you just have to close your eyes to see that face, that bridge, that games parlour.
‘Thunderstorm’ is a more languid affair that threatens to build but never does, however that gives way to ‘Sad Screaming Old Man’ and the character essays begin again, an apparently harmless old man who descends into madness and seems to want to take Jeffrey with him. The track builds to a frenetic scream that the old man is indeed, himself from the future!
The pace slows again for ‘Back to Manhattan’, the longest track on the album, which ebbs and flows like city traffic at night, a slow trip home and a breakup. ‘Avenue A, Shanghai, Hollywood’ gets toes tapping again and ‘Outta Town’ tells the tale of a lover discovering what a hopelessly co-dependant mess they are when their partner leaves town for the weekend. Jeffrey leaves his most biting humour for some of the last tracks on the album, ‘Support Tours’ is sadly hilarious depicting the shitty state of the touring life for struggling artists. “Oh what a terrible offer. Let me think about it. Yes.”
‘Have a Baby’ is my favourite on Manhattan. It all comes together for my ears on this track. All the angst and things striven for only to be cast aside at the coming of precious children. “I just think it’s so pathetic. They just said it ‘cause they read it. As for me I’ll seek eternally Until I really get it”. Manhattan ends with ‘Pigeon’, where the titular hero invades the lower east side walk up of a much annoyed man desperate to rid his apartment of the bird. Eventually he is resigned to growing old with it “I’m still fussing, he still fusses”.
Overall, what’s not to like on Manhattan? Sardonic introspection, cutting humour, toe tapping beat and sonic characters to sink into. After all, “that stuff’s important to me!”
Contributor Name: Brendan Parker
Artist: Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts
Album Title: Manhattan
Label: Rough Trade / Remote Control
Genre: Indie Rock, Alternative Folk
Moments Of Stand Out: Scowling Crackhead Ian (Track 1), Sad Screaming Old Man (Track 3), Have A Baby (Track 9) & Avenue A, Shanghai, Hollywood (Track 5)
This review was written by Brendan.