Johnny de Courcy The Master Manipulator EP

Johnny de Courcy The Master Manipulator EP
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Johnny de Courcy truly came into his own following his exit from Skull Fist and Black Wizard. His 2011 solo debut, Bad Teeth, paved the way for a string of releases (the last being 2014's Alien Lake) that marked an artistic evolution that mined the influences of his discerning ear.

Constantly in pursuit of pushing creative boundaries, it's no surprise that his newest effort, The Master Manipulator EP, seems to expose a de Courcy that fans haven't yet seen: a man unsure of himself. The six-track compilation spans from cold to confident to emotionally shattered, and marks the musician's departure from a self-proclaimed "solemn singer/songwriter…and perfection orientated artist" to his venture into a "process of experimentation/fermentation."

Though the album is thoroughly lounge-pop, the first half is lighthearted. The opening title track is coated with delicate piano and blasts of saxophone, while de Courcy croons that he's an "old fashioned sinner." "Creepside" takes things to a swaggering level with hints of jazz. The promised Empire Records tribute, Edwyn Collins' "Girl Like You," fits into de Courcy's drama perfectly, with futuristic synths alongside buzzy riffs.

Darkness envelops the second portion of the record, starting with "Teenage" — a piano-driven ballad that concludes with heartbroken sobbing. Then, a poignant crescendo of melancholy culminates in the key-and-string instrumental "Slayer Castle Suite in Cm-ish" and "April" (instrumental too, but for a haunting final verse).

This gradual descent from cockiness to insecurity subverts any notion that artists are one-dimensional to demonstrate the layers of complexity inherent to any human being — maybe, de Courcy suggests, unapologetic eccentrics aren't as comfortable in their skin as they appear; maybe they're just painfully human, like we all are.

Or, maybe de Courcy's just fucking with us. (Euth Coast Records)