Phil Manley

Life Coach

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AllMusic Review by

Given the sense of humor Phil Manley and the rest of Trans Am show on their albums, the title of his solo debut, Life Coach, suggests it might be wall-to-wall kitsch. While wit is never far from his music, these tracks are playful in a subtler way than his other projects. Life Coach's basic sound is of a piece with Trans Am and Jonas Reinhardt, mixing German-inspired electronic and acoustic sounds with a deft touch, but Manley works with a distinct set of motifs here: insistent guitar arpeggios, whether they’re electric or acoustic, add a thoughtful cast to Life Coach, and the busy figures on “Lawrence, KS” and “Make Good Choices” suggest that John Fahey is as big an influence on Manley as Kraftwerk and Can are. Life Coach's tracks are deliberately ordered, taking the listener on a journey that begins with some of his most accessible work -- “FT2 Theme” may be one of the happiest-sounding songs set to a Motorik rhythm, and “Commercial Potential” sounds like Muzak from the future -- before expanding into a sea of hypnotic drones with the soothing “Forest Opening Theme” and the more experimental and abrasive “Work It Out.” “Night Visions” closes the album by bringing all of the album’s previous sounds together, stretching into a nine-minute epic with seemingly endless delicate guitars colored by synth washes. Life Coach is surprisingly mellow considering the heavier and louder sounds Manley has pursued for most of his career, but it’s never boring: the way it encompasses the pop and avant sides of his music will please fans of his other work.

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