Mano Le Tough spends a lot of time in the club. In 2014, the Irish-born artist played more than 100 gigs all around the world—landing at number eight on Resident Advisor’s annual DJ Poll in the process—but when the time came to make Trails, the follow-up to his much-lauded 2013 debut album Changing Days, Mano knew that a little time away from the dancefloor was in order.
Although much of Trails was first conceptualised while Mano was on the road, by the time that 2015 rolled around, the record was little more than a collection of notes he’d jotted down on airplanes. Some of the ideas and themes were there, but Mano needed time—and a fair bit of quiet—to let them germinate. As such, he took a break from DJing, decamped to the Swiss countryside and adopted a new routine, one that involved waking up at dawn each day and taking long meditative runs through the hills and forests overlooking Lake Zürich before planting himself in the studio. It was winter and the environment was frozen and snowy, but amongst all that nature, Mano’s creativity flourished, and the resulting flood of inspiration produced Trails.
On the one hand, the album continues down the path Mano has been walking for several years now. Trails is full of slow-brewing, melody-driven tracks, many of them featuring Mano’s emotive vocals; for fans of Changing Days, Mano’s earlier EPs, or even Maeve, the rising young label he runs alongside close friends The Drifter and Baikal, there is plenty to love here.
At the same time, Trails finds Mano speaking—both figuratively and literally—with a more confident voice than ever before. While there’s never been much doubt about his skills as a producer, Mano’s career was largely forged in the DJ booth, and his many extended sets in clubs such as Berghain and Trouw have gradually lent his production work an impressive sense of patience. The songs
on Trails are never in a rush; they swell and blossom at a deliberate pace while blurring the lines between house, techno, new wave, ambient and classic pop music.
DJs may gravitate towards the album’s soaring club cuts (“I See Myself in You,” “Sometimes Lost”), but songs like “Half Closed Eyes” and “Empty Early Years and the Seed” find Mano deftly balancing his pop impulses with the demands of the dancefloor. Elsewhere, “Running in a Constant Circle” and “Generations” kick off the album with serene slices of electronica, “Trails” channels new wave while employing a hooky no wave guitar riff, and “Meilen” offers up a bit of Balearic bliss. Then there’s the “Energy Flow,” a track which puts Mano’s vocals front and centre and just might be the most emotionally naked thing he’s ever produced.
Granted, this sort of variety has long been a staple of Mano’s DJ sets, but Trails is perhaps the first time that his diverse tastes have been so coherently reflected in his own music. Without question, the album is Mano’s deepest, most personal, and most potent work to date, and while it’s undoubtedly been influenced by his time in—and reverence for—the club, its reach goes far beyond the dancefloor.