Sensible Soccers – Manoel (Wasser Bassin)

Sensible Soccers – Manoel (Wasser Bassin)

As I write this, I’m trying to think of a band in recent times who have come into their own on their fourth album. I’m kind of stumped. There aren’t many, but Portugal’s Sensible Soccers have done that very thing. I first came across the band when I was covering a festival in Lisbon a few years ago. I knew little to nothing about them before their set. Afterwards, I tried to find out all I could. What struck me about their set that evening was how they didn’t really sound like anyone else I was listening to at the time. Yes, they used guitars, drums, bass and keyboards, but they didn’t follow the blueprint of what a guitar band should be. Instead they forged their own way. On Manoel, their fourth album in seven years, they follow their intuition and really take things up a notch.

The first thing you notice, when listening to Manoel, is compared to their previous albums the guitars are really prominent and how great the playing is. On previous albums the band have sounded great, but they haven’t really let rip like they do now. Guitars aren’t anything new to the Sensible Soccers sounds, but in the past they have been hidden in the mix, or used to add layers of sound, here they are more front and centre. The opening track ‘Cantiga de Ponte’ kicks off with a delicate guitar riff. It’s playful, lyrical but more importantly intricate. Under this, horns and flutes gently play. They underpin the emotional impact of the guitar. It is tender, but not saccharine. But they are. As the piano starts to twinkle around the final third, finally the band allow the bass and beats to emerge. Listening back to the band’s previous three albums, it’s hard to imagine they were capable of this level of beauty and maturity of composition. On ’23:16’ they return to the more dance oriented sound of 2019’s ‘Aurora’. That had a slightly pastel, Balearic feel, but here the music is slightly more harder hitting. Stuttering synths deliver the main hook, while a slightly disco bassline keeps things moving forward.

There is something cinematic about these songs. Firstly, this is down to how the band have progressed musically. As the majority of their songs are instrumental you have to find new ways to communicate, and connect, with your audience. Secondly, Manoel acts as a new score for two films from the director Manoel de Oliveira. ‘Douro, Faina Fluvial’, originally released in 1931 and ‘The Painter and the City’ released in 1956. Some of the songs follow the action directly, others take inspiration from them, but don’t follow directly. What does follow, however, is Sensible Soccers delivering songs with an emotional impact regardless of whether they are poppy, dancey or experimental.

Sensible Soccers feel like a band hitting their stride. Their debut album ‘8’ was strong, but a continuation of their early exceptional demos rather than a cohesive album. 2016’s Villa Soledade was the first time they started to feel confident as an outfit. Aurora was a massive step forward. The music was tight, but not rigid. There was room to breathe, and dance, but a couple of tracks felt flat. On Manoel everything just works. On ‘Bali Hai’, for example, the band have layered three different melodies to create something that is hypnotic as well as memorable. There are Italo keyboards, dub basslines, indie guitars and almost disco beats. It shouldn’t work, but it does. In the past they might have just concentrated on one part, but they have a new-found confidence and are willing to take risks. And the album benefits from it. What Manoel really demonstrates is how if you let a band develop at their own pace, they will deliver something exceptional. Sensible Soccers have taken their time to get to this point and, after listening to Manoel a lot, you have to admit it was worth it.

 

 

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