Mano Le Tough – Trails

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Mano Le Tough (aka Niall Mannion) emerged back in 2009 with Warhorn, his debut release on Internasjonal, the disco-house label run by the Norwegian DJ/producer Prins Thomas. This marked the beginning of Mannion’s ascent into the international spotlight as a respected producer and sought after DJ.

Mannion’s success continued to grow. His debut 2013 LP, Changing Days, garnered critical acclaim and won over new followers with its emotion-stirring originality. In 2014, he played more than 100 shows around the world, leading to a number 8 position in the annual Resident Advisor DJ poll.

Two years on, Mannion’s second album, Trails, has a lot to live up to. Juggling work as a touring DJ alongside producing new music is a hard task. Despite this, Trails is a successful record. It carries on the torch from Changing Days – but this time develops a balance of beautifully crafted production and well put-together songwriting. The result is a dynamic record that doesn’t fail to stimulate attention from start to finish.

Running In A Constant Circle kicks things off. Cinematic soundscapes morph into loose melodies before giving way to a watered-down 2-step beat which generates the characteristic Mano Le Tough sound we know and love. It’s a stirring, building track that fires life into the record straight from the outset.

Generations follows. Mannion’s soft looped vocals build into epic emotional brass melodies,  before the open-sounding Energy Flow introduces Mannion’s ‘easy on the ear’ vocals in a more traditional song structure. The combination of lyrics with stretching sonics nods to the celestial – it’s the first real example of Mannion tapping into the honest emotional human connection, which is often neglected in clubs by selectors.

The idiosyncratic Half Closed Eyes breaks into a steady four-four, grounding spiralling melodies and textures while vocals are chopped-up, stretched and reversed. Empty Early Years And The Seed sees the mood darken as Mannion offers a refreshing take on the 2-step beat. Lyrics nod to sci-fi themes, while overlapping synth melodies play from different directions. I See Myself In You moves things along with grooving and intelligent phrases beneath filtered arpeggiated chords, creating living breathing textures.

Title track and one of the stand outs, Trails, draws from a wide range of sounds: synthesisers, guitars and recorded drums. The rhythms and textures are underpinned by a well placed chord progression, the song perfectly demonstrates the Irishman’s songwriting and production abilities.

Then it is the eerily jittering The Space Between Another which moves things forward into Sometimes Lost, a kind of tension release track. A four on the floor house beat marks a return to the kind of track that feels equally at home played in the club or on headphones. Jumping piano samples are direct and rhythmic.

Mannion signs off Trails with Meilen. The sound of rain, accompanied by soft synthesisers proves emotive and gives the Mano Le Tough sound a sense of moving on and change.

Mannion has created another impressive fusion of songwriting and production in the album format. The result is a dynamic sound which provokes an emotional response that goes beyond the ‘hands in the air’ club experience. As Mannion points out himself, his intention is to “connect with the listener on a deeper level and add something to their lives”. Trails stays faithful to this statement.