I went into this listen of the UK’s Boston Manor completely blind. 

Emo/punk/scene Twitter has a thing for them, but I never sought them out; I assumed they did good pop-punk à la All Time Low. My mistake. Boston Manor is fantastic. I regret not checking them out earlier. 

Datura, their fourth album, focuses on soundscapes. It builds an eerie atmosphere to match the album title, which means “dusk.” A datura is also a hallucinogenic poisonous flower symbolizing caution, warnings, and power. This album certainly evokes feelings of caution through powerful electronic and guitar-centric music. Breathlessness and paranoia accompanied my listening. Boston Manor have a serious talent for achieving such feelings under memorable, clean melodies. 

Thankfully, Datura is the first part of a two-part series. The second part addresses the peace of the morning after a harrowing night. But, for now, listeners must survive Datura: songs that exist “in the dim light between dusk and dawn.” 

‘Floodlights on the Square’ continues where opener ‘Datura’ left off. It’s a slinking, threatening song. Loss, fear, and paralysis start the track and set the theme for the rest of the album: “I don’t know what to do, ’cause I still rely on you / It’s all going wrong.” 

‘Foxglove’ – the third track and the first single – is another type of poisonous plant, and the song reflects the danger of a poisonous flower. Dissonant guitars and minor-chord synths shimmering behind the vocals create an eeriness. Immobility follows the listener: “No one’s invincible / I’m stuck in the middle.” The bridge goes into electronics that dance in the mind like shadows on a dark hallway wall before the song’s wailing end. 

The second single, ‘Passenger,’ is one of the catchiest singles of the year. I had it stuck in my head for the rest of the day after my first spin of Datura. Halfway through the record, ‘Passenger’ gives the listener the tiniest glimpse of hope. Immediately following, however, is the low bass that opens ‘Crocus,’ the third poisonous flower of the album. Beautiful but toxic seems to be a secondary theme of this album. Unnerving lyrics support that hypothesis: “I’m not the one you wanted / I’m the one that you got – I’m only just getting started.” Guitars follow through with the threat, at their heaviest on ‘Crocus.’ The song ends with a cyberpunk-ish, rain-spattered instrumental. 

Rain follows the listener into ‘Shelter From the Rain,’ but as the title suggests, it’s also the album’s first bit of real hope. There is shelter. There is respite. Synth chords slow down and become more sustained, less jittery. Sometimes they dip into major keys. Heartbeats slow. ‘Inertia’ preserves the calm. The heavy guitars are back, but they are open enough to breathe in. “All we need are these four walls, where we can wait out the darkness,” sings vocalist Henry Cox. Breathe. There will be hope upon this dawning. 

Then return the electronics. For a tense two minutes, fears rush back for a final assault: distorted voices, feedback, metallic shrieks. Heartbeats pick up speed, and the darkness rushes back. Then – birdsongs: it’s dawn. The first ray of the sun pierces the dark. The rain has stopped. 

And that’s where we are left until Boston Manor’s follow-up record. This first half leaves us breathing rapidly and anticipating a day of peace and rest. Cox explains that the band attempted to capture the sound of “somebody struggling to get control of their life and pull themselves up.” Boston Manor absolutely succeed, and that’s why it’s such a difficult listen. 

In summary…

Datura clocks in under the twenty-seven-minute mark, which serves a two-fold purpose: first, if the second half is about the same length, the night and morning after will make a delightfully listenable hour-long program back-to-back; second, the short length whets the appetite for the next part and encourages multiple listens to Datura. I know I will return to this album. I’ll also do my due diligence and listen to Boston Manor’s back catalog. I’m undoubtedly overdue. 

Boston Manor’s fourth album, Datura, is out October 14, 2022, on SharpTone Records. The band will be touring with Alexisonfire throughout the UK and Europe at the time. 

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