During the past four years, Irish-born producer Niall Mannion, better known as Mano Le Tough, has built a reputation for florid, sprightly house music with tracks like "Mountains" and "Stories." For his debut album on Permanent Vacation, he's streamlined his sound into a more home-friendly, vocal-oriented effort that occupies the downier climes of electronica. Much like label-mate John Talabot did with last year's ƒIN, Mannion constructed a series of sumptuous escapes that form a concise, pop-based album.
But let's start with some caveats: like 2011's "In My Arms," Changing Days prominently features Mannion's own voice, a croon that's sure to be the album's most divisive characteristic. On opener "Cannibalize," for example, he emerges clear and almost too central: "eat yourself, eat yourself, eat yourself/when you cannibalize, when you categorize." For those listeners coming to Changing Days from the epic structuring of, say, "Those Lights are Lives," it's a startling moment, and one that takes some getting used to.
On the title track, Mannion opens with a twirling synth melody and foggy bass buzz before his voice coalesces into the kind of fuzzy, Balearic haze that calls to mind Pional or even Delorean. Album standout "A Thing From Above" turns one of his gorgeous synth pulses into a vocoder bedroom anthem that still flirts with the dance floor. "Primitive People," meanwhile, is dizzying and disorienting in a late-'70s krautrock fashion, and "Please," with its wooden tick-tock drums, is both sweaty and robot-cold.
Yet the more time you spend with the self-contained atmospherics of Changing Days, the more you long for the loose-limbed boat party nuggets we've come to expect from Mannion. As a whole, it's pretty and peculiar, but it mostly lacks the sly, ear-worm languor of his best singles. And ultimately, whether or not you can get over Le Tough's occasionally awkward vocal presence, it's that conservative bend to his sonics on his debut LP that makes it, at best, a very qualified success from such a young talent.