Encrypt Manuscript - Census (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Encrypt Manuscript

Census (2008)

The Tone Library

Encrypt Manuscript has been concocting some of the more unique and divisive sounds in the metro area the last few years. Though it starts with a base of frantic post-hardcore / indie rock, the band restrain it with an attentive detail to jazz breaks and more subtle underlying instrumentation, topped off with alternations between a high-pitched vocal yelp, a beat poetry-inflected delivery and the occasional frailly sung section. Their long-awaited debut full-length, Census, is the culmination of these talents.

There's been some persistent comparisons since the band's Dialogues EP: the Nation of Ulysses (for the contrast of an unsettling swagger and clear jazz influences; some vague political theory musings and similar aesthetic); the related Make Up (for the unique, semi-theatrical and soulful display; aesthetic, too); and the Blood Brothers (since Brian Davis' jarring vocals mildly resemble Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney combined into an all-in-one approach). But Census largely alleviates those similarities. Encrypt is also way cleaner-sounding than the NOU, but you might chalk that up to advancements in recording technology the last 16 years. In fact, people will probably now draw musical (more so than vocal) parallels between them and Minus the Bear's more spacious moments; frankly, it wouldn't be totally off. Nonetheless, Census brings out Encrypt's individual characteristics considerably better than before.

The wordplay Davis employs is likely to remind some of the At the Drive-In circa Relationship of Command ("Empires are flea bites beneath dirty sheets / Insect intentions intent shunned in sects"), but he seems to splash his clever narratives with a more personal touch. It becomes raw and uncomfortable when he repeatedly snarls "I was only eight years old / holding a dead dog / on the front yard and no one's home" in "Two Mice," whether the scene is reconstructed from memory or drummed out of mere creativity.

One standout comes in the form of "Pink Slip," where quietly dancing guitars weave under Davis' soaring, catty calls, its various chorus succeeding with the yap of "I'm in the confines of it! Oh, oh, I'm in the confines and it's," the sentence completed by Davis' bandmates with a smoother, sung conclusion of "easierrr...so easierrr." Davis gets rather sassy in "The Royal We," while a healthy roll propels the song along well, fueled by pace-making tambourine shakes and circling, prickly guitar lines.

Census, tracked with Alex Newport in October/November 2007, actually followed a scrapped recording with Paul Mahajan that past January of what was to be titled People. But considering Newport's edge in regards to producing more "punk" bands, he makes much more sense as the producer here. Sure, Encrypt is weird and frantic, but there's a certain bite and aggression that Mahajan might only be familiar with in his work from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Newport captures it nicely -- the band sound clear as crystal glass and tight as hell, but no less antagonistic to the listener.

Word on the street is Encrypt will be calling it quits soon. They've subtly improvised and improved over their years as a band, all the while with a truly independent ethic -- like their other releases, the pristinely packaged Census was released on The Tone Library, a label seemingly run by members of the band. If the breakup rumors are true, it's obviously disappointing, but it will mean that the band's swan song was their best song.

The Beloved Cyst
Two Mice
Pink Slip
Food, Health, Hope