Album Review: Mandancing – The Good Sweat

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ManDancing’s debut LP, Everyone Else, was a worthy debut effort. Bandleader Stephen Kelly sounded like a young Andy Hull, the band had a quirky, shambly folk influence they wore on their sleeve, and they knew exactly the right moments to crank up the distortion. The band’s followup EP Hands on 3 doubled down on all that; their folksy ruminations got more Appalachian and their punchy moments got crunchier. The EP’s opening song, “Passing Out,” remains one of the best in their catalog. Listening to Mandancing was always a thoroughly pleasant listen. But it’s been four years since Everyone Else, and Mandancing aren’t that band any more. ManDancing have made the leap, the leap from “I’ll throw this on” to “I can’t turn this off.” To put it bluntly, The Good Sweat is a masterpiece.

There’s a moment two minutes into “Coffer,” the first single off of The Good Sweat, when Kelly lets loose as the band swells behind him. “Coffer” is a pretty light, melodic indie rock song until Kelly screams out, “I can sing as hard as I feel.” He is, clearly, singing as hard as he feels. It’s emblematic of the album as a whole: Kelly and the rest of ManDancing twist songs until they snap and implode on themselves in moments of catharsis.

To be clear, that structure – a soft build up to a shout-along bridge – is a fairly common one in indie rock circles. About half the songs on The Good Sweat follow that formula, and ManDancing’s take isn’t groundbreaking; Everyone Else garnered Manchester Orchestra comparisons, and those will hold here too. But none of this matters. The energy and passion behind The Good Sweat are palpable.

“Kenlock” demonstrates this immediately. The song is essentially divided into three parts, each of which builds on the previous; it begins with a soft drone before Kelly’s crystalline voice pipes up. When the full band joins him a minute in, the song opens up exponentially, and when they kick it up a minute later the song feels even more expansive. As the band explodes at the end of the song, it doesn’t matter that “Kenlock” doesn’t represent the creation of a new genre. All that matters is the feeling. Like Kelly shouts out, “we’ve made it,” and it really sounds like they have.

Other songs show a bit more restraint, but they’re no less affecting. “GloveSweat” is the album’s closest approximation of a ballad, echoing and atmospheric. It’s sparse and haunting and lets Kelly’s vocals take the spotlight. It’s much different from the rest of the LP, and it shows that ManDancing are no one trick pony. Contrarily, they’re one of the most talented and powerful bands making music today. The Good Sweat is hard proof of that. There’s an earnestness that permeates every note and makes every second feel earned. There’s a joke to be made that ManDancing put a good sweat on during the making of the LP, but it’s no joking matter. ManDancing have tapped something special.

Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great /Phenomenal

The Good Sweat is available now from Take This To Heart Records.

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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