Home, Manorlady, Self-Released

Home, the first full-length album from Charlottesville’s Manorlady, feels as much like a culmination as it does a debut. It’s the fleshed-out and polished successor to the band’s initial EP, Home Away, released at the beginning of 2010 after just a few shows around town. Taking that EP’s five songs and adding six additional tracks, Home brings Manorlady’s vision into focus.

The hard-working local band Manorlady (left to right: Donald Wooley, sometime fourth member Tony DeAngelis, Melissa Bailey and Aaron Bailey) releases its impressive debut full-length with a show at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on Saturday, April 23.

That vision draws inspiration from the desert of Eastern California, where the band’s members, husband and wife Aaron and Melissa Bailey and her brother Donald Wooley, grew up. To the northeast of their hometown of Ridgecrest lies Death Valley’s Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the United States. Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48, looms to the northwest.

Such extremes are a far cry from the rolling countryside of the Blue Ridge and Piedmont, and Manorlady’s music seems to search for those absent highs and lows. If the Home Away EP was a sketch of that terrain, Home is an oil painting, over a year in the making, that fills in the rich textures and colors.

The album’s songs bleed into each other, providing a seamless listen from beginning to end, and the band’s influences blend just as naturally. “International Boys Club” and “Red Juice” pair New Order drum machine rhythms with the guitar and vocal atmospherics of the Cocteau Twins. “Trees” and “Delta Waves” resemble the brooding but melodic chimes of groups like Low and Galaxie 500. “Waltz for Couples,” an interlude that resembles a wind-up musical box, sits at the middle of the album, like the calm eye at the center of its swirling storm.

As Home progresses, Manorlady sheds its direct ’80s and ’90s vibe and moves further into its own dynamic explorations. On “Jimmy,” Aaron and Melissa alternate vocal lines about love over Wooley’s warm, shifting synth chords. “Vacation Plans High Desert” begins with the picking of an acoustic guitar before shifting up to a propulsive electronic beat and finally a crescendo that climaxes in a post-rock squall. The eerie “Lost Dogs” follows the same trajectory, gradually building up steam before sizzling and evaporating into “Sungazing,” the album’s final song and the most evocative of Manorlady’s desert roots. “You’re just a girl / who’s just begun / to gaze into the sun,” sings Aaron. “You tried to fly away / You tried to fly / You tried to go, go, go, home, home, home.”

With Home Manorlady recaptures the horizon of youth, but the band also maps its own unique peaks and valleys. As the album closes, going away and coming home seem to merge, an acknowledgment that leaving home is the start of creating a new one. For Manorlady that new nest is in Charlottesville, and the band has done a good job of building it so far. As the saying goes, home is where the heart is, and there’s definitely a lot of heart in Home. 

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