I love an all-star trio and that’s just what this album is. Frank Meadows, Jessica Ackerley, and Eli Wallace have all done some stellar solo work in recent years in addition to piles of other essential collaborative projects, but MAW stands as tall as any of it. A Maneuver Within is a deft showcase of each artists’ innate skill and the controlled environment brings an added layer of intimacy, giving off the feeling that we’re settled in this small space with them. Everything feels simultaneously small but potent and if we breathe too heavy, the structures will collapse.
Power in the quiet moments is a central theme of A Maneuver Within. Each small passage requires constant attention, but so long as we stay in the moment the tiny details and scaled-down arrangements offer deeply rewarding narratives. Low end bubbling ripples through “Prophase” as if the floor has turned into a viscous liquid and is slowly consuming everything it touches. Meadows and Acklerley are acrobats moving in all angles and directions but carefully avoiding colliding at each turn. It’s mesmerizing.
Creaking tension sits in the pocket of “Metaphase” spelling out ghost’s names with an electrified ouija board. Low end drones scratch their way into the room, too, but their tactility puts the hair on our necks on edge. Somber moods pull in disparate directions threatening to break the last thread before “Anaphase” takes over. Percussive skeletons from Wallace’s crackling piano techniques flutter through the space with a cryptic whimsy. Repeating notes blare out in urgency trying to escape Ackerley’s rapid strums and Meadows’s dancing bows. Figures shift in unexpected patterns leaving angular shapes etched in the mirror walls.
Ackerley continues to show there’s nothing she can’t play as these tiny, minimalist spectacles become fertile ground for her to weave every kind of anxiousness into her strings. She finds an emotional bend in the expressive landscapes of the side-long opus, “Decay.” Worlds grow from the strained aural passages, eventually contracting before starting the process over at a new angle.
Hollow tones jump from the piano as “Decay” pushes ahead in search of a void where they can be swallowed before being hushed by Meadows’s subtle bowed bass stitches. The obstinate forces between the two timbres makes us put our ear closer, listening to what the air between is whispering. Rattles and dissected into scraped dust. Emptiness turns into an echo chamber where the lilting plucks from Ackerley dance quietly in the periphery as though nobody else can see or hear them. Everything comes together for a brief instant before dispersing, once again, amongst the fading stars.