Phil Manley will already be known to fans of Total Music as a key member of the groups Trans Am and The Fucking Champs. To those of you who really keep your eye on the ball, you will also know that he released a solo album in 2011 called Life Coach. It is not that Life Coach but his new band Life Coach and their début album that we are concerned with in this review.As the name might suggest there is an overarching journey running through this album. This journey is human potential, optimisation, excellence and a free gym pass when you sign up for a whole year of the programme. Manley is joined for the duration by drummer Jon Theodore of Queens of the Stone Age, whose work throughout is muscular yet exacting; and by Isiah Mitchell, whose fluid lead lines open pineal windows and kick down locked doorways that have been standing between what you are now and what you truly deserve to be.
The journey that is You opens with “Sunrise.” Tambura and reversed guitar suggesting tantric formulae that are as much West Coast as they are eastern promise. Pretty soon this segues into “Alphawave,” the first proper groove of the album. It is near-impossible not to compare this number with Neu! 75. Believe me, I tried and ended up with my chakras spilling out in a decidedly unsightly manner. There’s the optimistic electric piano sevenths, that drumbeat that we shall not name and all of that major scale melodic decoration, but it is when Mitchell and Manley’s DNA helix of fifths starts to ascend that it starts to resemble something more NWOBHM or Satriani.On “Limitless Possibilities” we find the band exploring a more shoegazing sort of territory, but as we might expect from Life Coach it is a highly muscular, exacting form of dream pop. The ethereal chords are there, the wordless voices, but played and produced with so much kick-ass that we could not imagine My Bloody Valentine capable of such a vessel, not unless the they took the unprecedented step of growing a pair. “Into The Unknown” is more of an ascent than a groove. It’s a long opening, building and building, finally breaking only to fall away as if the destination was entirely unimportant.
“Fireball” that follows it is one of the strongest tracks of the album. Equal parts AOR, glam-rock and new age, it’s like an anthem from a gruelling cycling tournament, under oppressively heavy gravity, with all to play for. It occupies a similar zone to the album’s other song, “Mind’s Eye,” which again fuses middle of the road rock with thrash shredding and optimised lead-lines reminiscent of the late Huw Lloyd Langton.It has to be said that the remaining two tracks: the eBow-heavy “Life Experience” and the grand closing drone “Ohm” are a little disappointing by comparison. Beautifully recorded they may be, as is the whole album, but we feel that Manley and co are merely cruising here rather than opening truly new vistas, although perhaps they should more properly be considered within the larger context or flow of the opus.
There’s a lot to listen to here, a lot of meat, a lot of good energy and if we might find the whole conceptual irony underpinning the album and the band starting to pall, the work itself stands tall on the basis of some strong playing and some very beautiful production.
The album cover’s a bit on the fugly side though.