ManDancing – ‘Everyone Else’ Review

Posted: by Sean Gonzalez

The struggle of one trying to get their creativity to be heard is damn near difficult these days. Whether it be music, writing, tap dancing or even visual aids, at times it’s both a pleasure and an anxiety driven abomination to put your physical being into art. That is where we find Stephen Kelly of ManDancing at the beginning of his debut record Everyone Else. It’s the perfect place to meet him, as he is questioning his entire performance which leads him into questioning more aspects of his life even though he’s told, “they like the sound of your voice, it blends in nice with all the other noise.” That opening track – entitled “shows” – puts Kelly on the stage and by the end of the song he is shedding his skin and begging to be heard. Is anyone even listening?

Possessing a bit of a folk influence (and an uncanny familiarity to Manchester Orchestra), Kelly worked with producer/drummer Ben Petty and a few others to spark his acoustic songs to urgent lashes of energetic anthems. A few times one will find the worried singer collapsing on the floor, crushing his hope with fears that take the form of distraught lyrics being sung over somber tones. This is his mood on “beer (cases),” telling his final I love you’s before he drinks himself to sleep again. Kelly also carries out themes through Everyone Else, shown by the sister songs “(lit) ocean” and “ocean (reprised).” The beckoning call is Kelly’s voice twisting itself into spurts of panic about drowning in his own life that is getting harsh through his actions and everything related to him. It brings back the opening song where Kelly wondered if people cared about his shows, cared about him because now he is drifting away.

But as with the solemn uncertainty, there are times Kelly is shouting from that stage and it forces you to listen. If you were paying attention instead of drowning him out with your own noise, you hear his hopeful pleas being released by a small slab of optimism. Kelly’s trying to keep everything together, as he showcases on “broken” with the realization that, “I’m learning it’s I choice I make every morning that I wake up, to forgive myself and be grateful for my life.” Kelly’s confidence is beaming through his strong voice that is delivered perfectly, whether it be his cautious mid-range or his dire shouts. And yet, there is still more vulnerability to find on Everyone Else. “humor (hah)” has a swinging blade of optimism that’s waiting to strike Kelly. The music surrounding his voice has a natural resolve in the melody that reaches it’s full sense as the song closes and Kelly is done beckoning. His lyrics, while cryptic, are intelligent in presenting the dark themes we have come to know from emo/indie groups. 

It’s Kelly’s impeccable delivery that makes or breaks tracks. On “stones (again) and (again)” – my personal favorite track – we find Kelly on the edge. He’s afraid of hurting people and afraid of hurting himself. By the end of the track we find Kelly in personal anguish, shouting so hard that one can hear his voice breaking. It’s riveting and it’s as if we found Kelly chained in the corner and he’s pushing back. He’s on a stage and he threw his guitar because no one’s listening and he’s testing the waters; the same waters we find him drowning in. It’s honest, it’s torturous yet it is absolutely beautiful. 

Now that Kelly has wrapped up his performance, where do we find him at alls end? Well, we have Kelly reciting the lyrics to the children’s song “I’m A Little Teapot,” except changing certain lyrics to better match his ending point. “When I get all steamed up won’t you hear me shout?”  It’s the epitome of a heart breaking realization that Kelly’s darkness is just a tool, he’s on that stage and he’s poured out all of his emotions, but for what purpose? It brings back the worried man we met earlier, wondering if anyone is still listening or going to continue to listen. Maybe he’s placing his music in a metaphysical part of your world, and now anytime you grab that damned teapot you’re going to be singing ManDancing, cause I know I already am.

Score: 8.75/10

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