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Life Coach

Thrill Jockey
Thrill 258 - 2011

Phil Manley, founding member of the pioneering DC-trio Trans Am, and in-demand recording engineer (Alps, Arp, Mi Ami, Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips) has recorded his debut solo album.

CD version comes in a four panel mini-LP style gatefold package. LP version includes download coupon and is packaged in a full color jacket with full color inner sleeve.

Life Coach, a title inspired by Tony Williams Lifetime and Charles Bullen’s Lifetones project, is a dynamic collection of instrumental songs composed, performed, and recorded entirely by Phil. While there are reflections of Phil’s work in Trans Am, Oneida, The Fucking Champs, and Jonas Reinhardt that a listener familiar with those bands will notice, Life Coach is more minimal and adheres to the structures of German rock of the mid 70’s that has long inspired Phil, specifically the free-spirited and loose arrangements, the propulsive "motorik" pulse, and the sonic textures or "Klangfarben" (translated "sound colors"). German analog recording technology had reached its zenith in the late 70's. This coincided nicely with the careers of such artists as Neu!, Kraftwerk, Harmonia, Cluster and Popol Vuh. German recording engineer Connie Plank, a hero of Phil's, was responsible for most of the greatest recordings of each of these bands. Life Coach pays homage to the "Klangfarben" of Connie Plank's recordings.

In order to achieve the desired results, Phil reached most often for his Fender Telecaster electric guitar because of its "bell-like" tone. Generally speaking, plugging his guitar directly into his API preamps achieved the most "direct" sound by literally cutting out the amplifier stage from the signal chain. This positions the musician and the listener that much closer together, something that the personal nature of this music and the process demanded. For the acoustic numbers, Phil used his vintage 1967 Gibson Country-Western steel string acoustic guitar. This guitar was miked with a highly sensitive and expensive Neumann condenser microphone to capture all the nuance and detail of his finger picking. The signal was left clean with little to no processing, and no equalizers or compressors. "These devices tend to cloud the signal and interfere with the natural sound of the source," says Phil. A varied compliment of synthesizers were used to make this record including a Roland Juno 60, Crumar Orchestrator (a gift from old friend and sometimes Trans Am producer John McEntire), Roland Organ Strings, Arp String Ensemble, Mini Moog and Roland GR-20 guitar synth. All synths were played live, eschewing sequencers for a more human feel. Finally a Roland TR-606 Drumatix drum machine was used for its "warm" analog sound quality.

This deeply personal debut solo recording comes well into Phil Manley’s musical career. The song titles and the album title reflect to a large extent Phil’s sense of humor, well known to most Trans Am fans. He has always been the kind to poke fun at rock’s history and habits. To those of us who have had the pleasure of working closely with him, it is a reflection of his modesty. He is a man who has made a considerable mark on independent music. He has already had a lifespan that exceeds most bands in this world, and yet he never has fallen prey to taking himself too seriously. He only takes his music seriously, the rest he takes with a large grain of salt.



  • 1 FT2 Theme
  • 2 Commercial Potential
  • 3 Lawrence, KS
  • 4 Forest Opening Theme
  • 5 Work It Out
  • 6 Make Good Choices
  • 7 Gay Bathers
  • 8 Night Visions
  • 9 Life Coach

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