Every Record I Own - Day 207: Circle Manner
Vibrato is the slight, rapid variation in pitch that gives musical notes a richer tone. You hear string players use it all the time. And if you listen to opera or classic hair metal, then you hear singers go full gonzo with it.
Here’s a fun fact: no one really employed vibrato until the advent of recorded music. Things were just a little pitchy back in the day, and that was alright, because if you went to a symphony or an opera, you heard the music in real time, and the trade off for hearing music in a completely immersive environment was that things might sound a little human. But when recorded music allowed us to revisit a performance over and over again, those human elements began to stick out, so musicians started using this trick where they’d make the note waver between pitches. While the musician is rapidly vacillating between being sharp and flat, the listener’s brain literally centers the note to the right interval. We now hear vibrato as a masterful touch, but it was originally a way to cheat.
I hate vocal vibrato. I’m a gay man that loves heavy metal, and I don’t really fuck with Judas Priest because there’s too much vibrato. Love the first Joanna Newsom record. Everything after that? Too much vibrato. Joan Baez? Nope. King Diamond? Dio? Pavarotti? Nope. Nope. Nope. Even before learning about where vibrato came from, it sounded like fake melodrama to my ears.
But for every rule there is an exception. Manner overflows with arena-rock operatic vibrato vocals, and it’s amazing. But set against the locking krautrock grooves of interstellar riffage laid down by Circle, the vibrato doesn’t just center the notes, it centers the whole band’s vibe. Circle aren’t afraid to dive into uncharted waters, but the unabashed hair metal vocals tether the listener to the unpretentious territory of NWOBHM, and that makes records like Manner work both as a heady experiment in genre-mashing and on a no-bullshit rock n’ roll level.