Jared Mancuso – Hype! – Album Review
Word on the street from all my peers out there is that Jared Mancuso seems to be single-handedly restoring Rock’N’Roll back to its esteemed glory. Seriously…these are some worthy pulled quotes if I’ve ever seen’em in a bio! Given that I almost never fully agree with anything they’ve ever had to say (or good lord, how they tend to say it) – I figure it should be pretty interesting to see what Jared’s new record is like. So far we’re untainted by outside opinions on this album Hype!…let’s see if it all lives up to the massive expectations set by my fellow writers out there that set the world of Rock upon Jared’s shoulders…
It’s not that they don’t ever get it right mind you…it’s just freakin’ rare. That being said, I might have to admit, this time, they might not be too far off the mark at all – Jared’s got an extraordinary feel for music that leads him to wild victory after victory on Hype!. Like, right off the drop, the storming stomp of “Splendor” works in a gorgeous 50’s/60’s vibe with a 70’s feel that’s built to be relevant for the right here & now of what’s happening again in modern Rock. Essentially, you can hear the influence of the first two artists listed on his social media, Jack White and Buddy Holly – somewhere in the middle of those two legends, a dude like Jared Mancuso exists and thrives; pop inclinations with bold Rock tendencies that lead him to extraordinarily exceptional results and truly unique combinations in sound. From track to track, you’ll hear how both the classics of Rock and the modern-day heroes have played a role in shaping the Mancuso sound…he’ll flip between which of those influences you’ll likely notice more on any given track, but “Splendor” is one of those cuts that comes out strongly showing the remarkable balance between these time-periods and ability to incorporate a history’s worth of sound into his style. “Splendor” comes out like a combination of Strawberry Alarm Clock meeting The White Stripes – and I’d imagine for many of you out there, that’s a tantalizing description. It’s a justified one – the vibe has a wicked groove, resounding confidence, stunning execution, and wild, enthusiastic hooks that jump right out in the chorus through the vocals while the surrounding instrumentation in the entire song is bound to grab your attention for its complex intricacies and clever musicianship. For a rock record called Hype! – I gotta hand it to this man…he instantly lives up to the Hype! I’ve read about his past music and has clearly come out sounding inspired to exceed your expectations this time around on his new record. The breakdown & incredible drums that fuel the energy of the middle before charging back into the main hooks once more before the end…is seriously so badass that’s it’s nearly impossible to describe.
What I love most about Jack White is the influence he’s had on the rest of the music community. I’ve famously had almost no use whatsoever for 90% of his catalog – but I sincerely respect his actual approach to HOW he makes music, the extraordinary production techniques he’s both using and pioneering out there, and his sheer willingness to work with so many different types & textures of sound. I respect above all things, his need to push the boundaries in effort to come up with something new in Rock that we’ve yet to hear; and while that’ll always inspire similar acts to come out of the woodwork & use that influence of White’s artistic nature, it can often lead bands/artists into amazing new sounds & songs of their own. It’s the ambition of White above all things that should be relentlessly copied by us all…whether or not that’s how ya wanna sound, that part’s up to you. I know I’m more than alone on half of what I’ve said here, I’ve heard it all before; and while I’m still right of course (lol), I can understand where you’re coming from and why people look up to him as much as they do. AND…before you all grab your pitchforks to stab me…when the influence works out as well as it does for Jared on “So Strong” – obviously there’s a ton of validity in the sound/style itself – I get that – sometimes it all comes together so well that every twist & turn just oozes with cool. Is “So Strong” essentially a White-like idea? 100%! Anyone can hear that influence in the verses of this song for sure. The guitars as well of course – but LISTEN to how insanely rad that main riff is too! You’d have to be superhuman to resist it. Hype! is quickly living up to its promise of all-out Rock & the spirited energy that comes along with it – “So Strong” has that bounce & playful rhythm that’s guaranteed to grab your attention while still displaying an incredible amount of skill and songwriting ability that’ll make the musicians & players out there really take notice as well. And honestly – I love this kind of combination in sound. It really gives something to everyone in so many ways; on the surface-level, you can listen to the hooks and the killer way that Jared sings this song and you’d be more than happy – but if you dig into the tight musicianship and bulletproof hooks he’s created that form the backbone of this song’s biggest strengths, he’ll drop your jaw when you listen closely. It’s flashy, it’s stylistic, it’s certainly cool…but somehow, perhaps even despite the audible influences, “So Strong” is also incredibly organic and natural – a performance so fitting for Jared’s own style that you have to conclude he literally eats, sleeps, and breathes Rock’N’Roll.
Execution and commitment will be the biggest factors in convincing people like myself that would consider themselves outside of the whole Jack White/Black Keys thing of the past decades to climb aboard the Mancuso train. While bands/artists like that wouldn’t be my number one choice of something to listen to – the same rule applies to them – when they WANT to bring it, I’m ready to listen. When they want to stop being half-assed & lazy about the other half of their material, I’ll be even more excited to do that. Because right now…Mancuso’s proving that you CAN go out there and slay it 100% of the time at the beginning of this record; even on “Extraordinary” – which…in my opinion, SHOULD be ordinary in almost every sense of the word – it’s the way that Jared PLAYS this song that makes it worth its title. Other than that, I felt like there’s a ton of this particular tune that relies on…I don’t want to say ideas that have been ‘done’ – because I think this is still new enough – heck, at times, it’s almost like if RATM went in a Funk direction, which makes for a seriously cool listening experience music-wise. But I’d probably go with something like, the vocal hooks that Jared is using on this track almost leave you wanting him to challenge himself a bit more here…because he’s already displayed that capability on the first two cuts…and in that respect, it’s not that this third tune doesn’t sound uninspired – but easy for him perhaps. As a result, you get a really comfortable & confident performance on “Extraordinary” – and for many people out there, the straightforwardness of this cut and the more easy to digest hooks will hit the mark big-time…the musicianship is still entirely there as well…it could still be a favorite for many. Don’t get me wrong…good tune & all…I just felt like by comparison to the first two cuts that there was no real comparison…that’s all I’m sayin,’ songwriting-wise. I really don’t think you can beat Mancuso when it comes to execution and commitment though, which is what pulls you onto his side to root for him, even when a song might not fully hit it for ya…he still puts it all-in every single time and I can’t imagine a set of ears out there that would disagree with that assessment. He clearly puts his heart & soul into his every move and genuinely LOVES rocking-out with the crunch & icky-thump we all dig.
And as long as he leans towards the White-aspect of his sound and doesn’t accidentally become the next Danko Jones, then hey, right on…he’ll be on the right track. Cuts like “So In Love” threaten to pull him into the latter with the treble/mid-up distorted & meaty-riffs, flashier hooks, and pumped-up energy – there’s not a single doubt in my mind that he’s got himself a quick hit here…but that’s what worries me more than assures me, know what I mean? While “So In Love” is a stylistic burst of hot searing coolness and has a completely wicked solo…this is where that sincerity also seems to drop a bit in terms of the connection between the material and the artist…this cut feels like an intended hit. It’s a tough call in the sense that, obviously much of Hype! and Mancuso’s music in general is a true celebration of all-things rock, which would then certainly include ideas like “So In Love” as well – but again, if I’m comparing this cut to the initial two opening tracks on this record, it feels like we’ll all burn through “So In Love” really quickly. And YES – part of that IS Mancuso’s fault! I mean…he’s fashioned himself a very turn-uppable song here…and we all WILL I’d imagine…but there’s definitely a chance of this cut being worn out in comparison to the rest of Hype! quickly, so my advice is to pace yourself in loving this one.
Besides – if we’re talking about singles anyway, it’s obviously “Alright” ain’t it? How could it NOT be? This song absolutely has it all – and in my opinion, this is the blend of influences that adds up to the real sum of who Mancuso IS – this sounds less like others, more like himself, and puts Hype! solidly back on course. There are definitely still influences you can hear…but yeah, for the better part of “Alright” what I’m hearing is an artist that has taken that influence to the next-level here and found a serious gear that works. Hooks in the vocals begin immediately – Mancuso sounds freakin’ fantastic here & I love the vocal-flow in both main parts of this cut – the verse is stylistically amazing, the chorus amps it up to that next-level we’re looking for. Backing vocals? ESSENTIAL part of the magic on this cut – love’em. Stunning balance on display here once again, straddling the world between Pop & Rock in a blissful celebration of both styles blending into one seriously harmonious mixture and strong hooks everywhere you listen in the music & vocals. The breakdown & solo is killer, the way he brings the song back in is masterful, the hooks are entirely memorable, the energy is refreshing…”Alright” is downright addictive.
Like the jolt of inspiration that snaps the record back to life, “Alright” sends Mancuso into a strong beginning for the second-half of the album with its title-tune. Guitars up high & rippin’ it up with that stylish & slick tone, “Hype!” comes out swinging for the fence with its energy and once again, just oozes cool from its every pore. Rhythmic, groovy, Funk-Rock – Jared punches the emphasis into his words on “Hype!” and moves from beat to beat with swagger & style on-high – another exceptional combination of that old-school classic-rock vibe invading a modern-day sound. Mancuso doesn’t list RATM as an influence on his pages from what I can see…but that’s undeniably there to the point where I’m almost shocked to not see it written down somewhere…understood because that might make it confusing to those about to listen as RATM is definitely not the sound he’s ultimately going for – but LISTEN to the punch in the drums, the breakdowns, the Tom Morello-esque tones of the guitar and innovative ways that Mancuso plays it. Or you know, specifically spots around the 1:25 mark and the storming back into “Hype!” – that’s textbook RATM right there in structure and depth of sound – it’s all got a lighter & brighter veneer, but that’s definitely a similar energy. As for the rest of the cut, we’re probably heading more towards a Lenny Kravitz type combo in the edge, style, movement, & flashy nature of the verses, then shifting into a more Psych-Pop sound for the chorus, but like, with clear-headed direction & spot-on execution. “Hype!” is a short tune at just 2:18 – there’s nowhere to be lazy or hide and Jared knows that – he keeps the energy-level up and the entire atmosphere inviting for the whole song’s duration.
Just listen to the production on the opening drums and sound on “The Jungle” and you’ll hear how much attention to detail has been paid to this record both in front & behind the studio boards – they sound absolutely amazing, so crisp, so punchy – just immaculate. That being said…I was probably more on the fence with “The Jungle” than I was with many of the others, bringing me back to similar feelings I had in listening to “Extraordinary” earlier on. Were it not for the way that Jared throws himself right into his material with such confidence, commitment and conviction – a song like “The Jungle” would fall flat – it’s the way that he’s played this song that will have you loving it…and that’s justified. I think a lot of “The Jungle” feels familiar and similar to ideas we’ve heard in Rock’s illustrious history – but c’mon people, rarely do you hear it all done so damn well! “The Jungle” is pretty damn tight when it comes right down to it…and while you might feel like some of this song has been done in the past, you really can’t deny just how effective the entire sound is through the Mancuso perspective. Even if you somehow managed to not find something you dig until the solo comes up, you’re pretty much screwed thereafter – that’s one of the best & most innovative solos on the entire record and you GOTTA love it. That relentless spirit of Rock and tireless energy that Jared wields is a major asset and arrow in his quiver – when he lets the full power loose on a song like “The Jungle,” you really can’t help but feel the vibe and get right into it all. And that solo…again…I know I’m repetitive, but c’mon – that’s GOLD.
I dunno! You can all call me crazy if you like & that’s fine…but if we’re talking about the difference between a cut like “So In Love” that feels more designed to be a single as opposed to how naturally vibrant a track like “Play False Blues” comes out sounding…how naturally appealing it is…how strong that connection between the material and the music is…well…is there really a comparison? Like I said earlier more or less – I wouldn’t blame anyone for digging a cut like “So In Love” – all I’m arguing is that as a listener, as a song, as a complete experience – don’t we all get more out of a track like “Play False Blues?” Because THIS is slick as slick gets in the verse…and the way that Jared roars into the energy of the chorus on “Play False Blues” is nothing short of total detonation – he EXPLODES into the instrumentation of this track, which is ultimately the chorus of this tune, without words. He proves he doesn’t need a single one; don’t get me wrong, he’s KILLIN’ IT in the verses of this song and the ‘ah-ah-ah’ hooks are equally strong in how they pull us in – but the musicianship in this one track alone is worth twice the price of admission. I’d be pressed to find a finer example of Jared at his most innovative than what you’ll hear on “Play False Blues” – everything about this cut is exceptional; it’s as single-worthy as damn near every other tune on this record with about half the vocals, showcasing the fact that this artist is every bit as expressive, if not even more-so, with his guitar. Mind-blown! Honestly – “Play False Blues” is such an enormously colorful, wild, and all-out awesome set of ideas, executed beyond expectation, even with the high-standard of reliably entertaining musicianship set along the way. Everything about this song took my entire opinion of Mancuso’s music up a couple notches further.
“Optional” is a big reach hook-wise. Tough one to call honestly…I’m not 100% sure if that works or not. I think the verse works without question and there’s a solid chance those hooks alone are strong enough to carry this cut…I like the idea of the loud/quiet dynamics at work here in contrast between the song’s two main parts…but yeah…I gotta admit, that’s a bizarre main hook overall and not one that I can fully say for sure whether or not the people out there will absorb or not. I think if you’re a fan of going down the rabbit hole willingly with artists like Jack White then there really shouldn’t be too much of an issue following Jared into this idea either. You see…why I struggle with a track like this…is because it IS memorable – I don’t think that’s even arguable, know what I mean? So there IS undeniable value in that – I’d totally remember this was Jared Mancuso were I to hear this song months again down the road – and there’s something about that fact that can’t be ignored. I’m not quite sure WHAT it means, but I think that counts for something…hmmm…bizarre little ditty Jared, but it’s making my hamster move a little quicker on the wheel going round in my brain and I appreciate that. Loving the personality in the guitars throughout the verses…still digging the musicianship here…I think it’s the main vocal-hooks that raise an eyebrow or two, but I really can’t argue that they’re not effective. Interesting tune.
Giving his record a finale-style ending with the fireworks on display through the energy and pounding Rock of “Make It Right,” Jared concludes the Hype! experience on an amped-up performance that reminds you just how much this guy is capable of on the mic as well. It’s almost an oddity on the record – Mancuso’s never been afraid to flash shiny hooks on this album, but in the verse of “Make It Right” he’ll nearly head into terrain occupied by Ed Sheeran in the structure and flow of the vocals, before unleashing a vintage Alternative/Pop sound that defines the final song’s chorus. When he’s singing the actual line “Make It Right” – you can actually hear the added distance that likely had to be inserted in between Jared and the mic just to be able to house these gigantic notes on the recording and keep it consistent with the rest of the recording. I’m impressed! I think mix-wise, this entire record has been bang-on the whole time and this last tune leaves you with one more strong argument on behalf of the way this album has been put together in both performance and production. In many ways, “Make It Right” is a bit more of a straight-ahead Rock song…but I think once more, you hear the way that Jared is able to take a song to extraordinary heights by the enthusiasm & authentic passion he plays with – and that seems to elevate the experience every single time. “Make It Right” is quite arguably, one of the most accessible songs on Hype! for the masses out there; I’d personally take a “Play False Blues” every day of the week if I could, but I also think a track like that is pretty damn rare ultimately. Bottom line is that Jared Mancuso has an extremely versatile set of skills and abilities…he’s displayed amazing talent along the way and demonstrated what seems to be a limitless imagination & wild creativity in high gear – there’s zero doubt that he’s right into every moment of the music he makes and I love that you can genuinely hear that in the way he plays. He gets to make that choice on any given track on what kind of artist he wants to be and what kind of song he creates…he can go in the artistic direction like White, be experimental and wild, have amazing hits and a share or two of misses along the way, but truly find that satisfaction that so many artists seek in making music but never seem to find. Or he can clearly write tracks that could be hit songs for the mainstream if that’s how he feels like he wants to go with it all. Ultimately, he’s capable of combining those two directions into one, and that’s the magic of a record like this – it gives you a lil’ something of everything-Rock…which guarantees you something to love. Dude’s got style for miles when it comes right down to it…it’d be impossible not to enjoy listening to Hype!
The new record Hype! is officially released on August 21st this year – until then, stay up to date on the details and find out more about Jared Mancuso by visiting the official pages below!