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Indie Rock Star, MJ Lenderman Announces 'Manning Fireworks'

MJ Lenderman — the North Carolina-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist — announces his new album, Manning Fireworks, out September 6th via ANTI-, and releases the lead single/video, “She’s Leaving You.” Following last year’s “triumphant live album” (Pitchfork), And the Wind (Live and Loose!), and 2022’s surprise breakthrough Boat Songs, Manning Fireworks is an instant classic of an LP.

MJ lets us in on his frank observations on the intersection of wit and sadness. The punchlines from his previous albums are still here, as are the rusted-wire guitar solos that have made him a favorite for indie rock fans looking for an emerging guitar hero. But there’s a new sincerity, too, as Lenderman lets listeners clearly see the world through his warped lens. Today’s single, “She’s Leaving You,” is a half-sneering portrait of a middle-aged man cheating his way through a midlife crisis, at least until he gets caught and blasts Clapton in a rented Ferrari en route to Vegas. It also happens to be the perfect shout-along anthem for any kid who’s ever felt shortchanged by their parents. The song’s accompanying video, another instant classic, was directed by Whitmer Thomas and Clay Tatum. Per the directors, think “Creed Thanksgiving Half-Time Show” mixed with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” mixed with “Drop Dead Gorgeous.”

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If we flashback to 2021, no one paid too much attention when Jake Lenderman recorded Boat Songs, his third album released under his initials, MJ Lenderman. Before he cut it, after all, he was a 20-year-old guitarist working at an ice cream shop in his mountain hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, getting away for self-booked tours of his own songs or with the band he’d recently joined, Wednesday, whenever possible.

But as the pandemic took hold just as he turned 21, Lenderman—then making more money through state unemployment than he had ever serving scoops—enjoyed the sudden luxury of free time. Every day, he would read, paint, and write; every night, he and his roommates, bandmates, and best friends would drink and jam in their catawampus rental home, singing whatever came to mind over their collective racket. Some of those lines stuck around the next morning, slowly becoming 2021’s self-made Ghost of Your Guitar Solo and then 2022’s Boat Songs. With its barbed little jokes, canny sports references, and gloriously ragged guitar solos, Boat Songs became one of that year’s biggest breakthroughs, a ramshackle set of charms and chuckles. Much the same happened for Wednesday. Suddenly, people were paying a lot of attention to what Jake Lenderman might make next.

The answer is Manning Fireworks, recorded at Asheville’s Drop of Sun Studios during multiple four-day stints whenever Lenderman had a break from the road. Co-produced with frequent collaborator Alex Farrar, Lenderman plays nearly every instrument here. It is not only his fourth full-length and studio debut for ANTI-, but also a remarkable development in his story as an incredibly incisive singer-songwriter, whose propensity for humor always points to some uneasy, disorienting darkness. He wrote and made it with full awareness of the gaze Boat Songs had generated, how people now expected something great. Rather than wither, however, Lenderman used that pressure to ask himself what kind of musician he wanted to be—the funny cynic in the corner forever ready with a riposte or barbed bon mot, or one who could sort through his sea of cultural jetsam and one-liners to say something real about himself and his world, to figure out how he fits into all this mess. He chose the latter.

There are feelings of self-doubt, world weariness, and worry present here, but the conditions are rendered with a clarity and care that make his songs feel like short films. However, none of this is esoteric or obscure, Lenderman simply offers everyday anxieties and enthusiasms in uncanny ways. There is an abiding sadness to Manning Fireworks, but it feels friendly and familiar, the kind of troubles you’ve always known.

Lenderman is still sorting through the kinds of songs he wants to write and remembering they can go anywhere he wants—much like they did back at those late-night house jams, no matter who is now looking. 

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