I have to warn you that this is not going to be an impartial and unbiased review. No review is, really, but when it comes to Jonah Mantranga, I can’t help but approach the keyboard with anticipation and awe. You see, Jonah (a.k.a. onelinedrawing) is the sort of person whom I have no qualms referring to on a first-name basis, even though I’ve never met him and only communicated with him briefly through text. He’s someone whom I can quite happily call a genius, not because he’s an amazing songwriter, an erudite poet or a warm-hearted human being (he’s all those things), but because he is, quite simply, the most honest musician I have ever encountered.
Last New Year’s Eve I found myself wandering though a park with a clutch of friends. We were looking for an open-air rave that had, in fact, been cancelled (or possibly fabricated from the start). On our search, we bumped into another group of acquaintances, few of whom I knew. We stopped for a while, and I fell into conversation with a bright-eyed guy who recognized me from when he’d seen me sometime earlier wearing a Get-Up Kids T-shirt. A brief, clumsily enthusiastic discussion ensued; we chattered fiercely about our favorite musicians with a bizarre but totally natural kind of familiarity. The first thing off his lips was Far (Jonah’s old band), a name that meant nothing to me at the time. We talked for a while then went our separate ways.
The next time I spoke to Nathan was over a month later, when we got in contact and met up for coffee. Mix CDs were exchanged and I finally learnt more about him. He spoke animatedly about Jonah – his music, his reputation and the Web site that he runs and through which he communicates with listeners. Before long, I was co-hosting a radio show with Nathan and we were pouring music into each other’s ears on a weekly basis. Jonah was never far from reach; then one day I logged onto onelinedrawing.com and there was no turning back.
It’s hard to articulate quite how inarticulate I’m feeling, listening to Visitor on oversized headphones and biting the dry skin on my lip. It’s quite late and I should really be asleep. I only received the CD two days ago, so I took it into the radio station today to show Nathan. He hasn’t gotten his hands on a copy yet (although, after today, I know he will have ordered one) and we both bounced excitedly around the studio and played “Yr Letter” about half an hour into our slot. Visitor‘s ebullience is infectious: the pain and despair is infused with a gritted-teeth determination and the joy and wonderment is dizzily thrown at you. This music is dangerously alive. The album is rich with ambience and delicately placed instrumentation, and the whole thing feels playfully stitched together, belying the mastery Jonah has over his craft.
There’s a tad less cohesiveness here than on the first two “proper” onelinedrawing EPs (Sketchy 1 and Sketchy 2) or the Always New series of rough-cuts; undoubtedly, the fact that some of these tracks are seven years old contributes to this. In the liner notes, Jonah states that “some of the songs have never found a good home, and now they seem to have made one with each other.” Made one they may have, but it’s an eclectic merging to say the least, due partly to their varying production values. One suspects that these songs were never meant to sit together neatly, and when they’re viewed in that light – as a group of visitors – their stubborn refusal to conform makes a whole lot more sense.
It’s not that I can’t see the flaws in Jonah’s music; they’re undoubtedly there, and they’re not hidden from sight. It’s the imperfections that make Visitor so magical – far more than a singer-songwriter record, a (yawn) “post-emo-album” or an acoustic rock long-player could ever be. The music defies emotional description because it is emotion, warts and all.
You won’t find an album much better than this. Get it.