Oliver Mann is a point of difference in contemporary music. A classically trained baritone, his vocals are extraordinary on Slow Bark, intoning grandly over what for most of the album is quite minimal instrumentation. It is a voice that is both weary and operatic, adopting an unexpected place alongside more traditional folk instrumentation like acoustic guitar and harmonica. Yet even these tools are used in quite a distinctive way, with deep meditative, fractured and at times even quite experimental playing. There are worlds colliding here, but they’re colliding at such a languid pace and the results are so assured and beguiling that you barely notice.
His third album is not so much an album as a series of suites. The tracks are grouped in twos, a testament to the fact that much of this album is comprised of a collection of previous quite limited 7 inches that Mann issued between 2009 and 2011 in his rock n roll series. The formula seems to be that one track features vocals and stripped down, mostly acoustic guitar, whilst the second part is an instrumental development of the theme, often extended and tangenting with more ingredients.
What’s interesting is the nature of these instrumentals, often building over simple melodies, yet employing strange at times atonal elements, such as sawing wood that actively runs counter to the music, but gives it a certain roughage and furthers the feeling that there is a narrative here, that Slow Bark itself is a journey, perhaps even a piece of theatre.
Mann has worked with both Opera Australia and the Victorian Opera. In fact the cover of this album is from its 2011 production of The Magic Flute. Yet he also exists in another world. His brother Paddy is something of a folk visionary, going under the moniker Grand Salvo and having released a number of forward thinking albums on Preservation. Then of course there’ an association with James Cecil (Super Melody), who recorded two of the pieces here and then offered up a restrained yet lush neo classical electronic remix, elevating Mann’ music by applying a resonance and rounding out some of the austere edges of his music until it sounds like the understated soundtrack to a weary western. The other remix, from Lower Spectrum again takes a more electronic bent, where with a steady drone and field recording utilizes Mann’ tinkering and acoustic gestures, building them into a mesmerising earth shattering climax.
Mann is a singular musician. There is no one else making music like this, collapsing worlds to create something entirely new and entirely lasting.