I’m of the belief that side projects should be surprising — meaning that I hope the music is nearly unrecognizable in relation to its creator or the creator’s band. Vocalists usually have a harder time with this — especially when you think of someone like Maynard or Beth Gibbons. The distinctiveness of a voice is hard to mask or distort. When it comes to guitar work, however, this process can be a little easier and ultimately yield results that speak to the spirit of the side project — the necessity of an occasional increase in private creative freedom (especially for those in tight, established bands).
This all comes to mind for me when I consider the quiet beauty of Justin Mank’s ambient side project Two Hands | One Engine. For those of you aren’t aware, Mank is a long time member of St. Louis metal/post-hardcore mainstay Not Waving But Drowning — whose brutal riffs and overall musical identity stand in hilarious contrast to Mank’s introspective alter ego.
Comprised of layered guitar work, tape loops, field recordings, and subtle synth explorations, the music that defines Two Hands | One Engine is both hallucinatory and organic — containing a natural, fleeting, liquid-like flow that bubbles up calmly to the delicate surface of its hushed tones and textures. And, beneath this peaceful minimalism, I can faintly sense the bottomless echoes of those unspoken moments that happen before band practice, in between songs, or in a quiet room after a taxing show. Having personal experience regarding this creative phenomenon, I can attest to the magic of these slivers of time — sacred in that they can sometimes end up being very fruitful moments of inspiration.
So far, Mank has been conservative with his releases; there are only a handful of tracks available on his Bandcamp page. Eventually, I assume he will be releasing a physical album through one of the many suitable cassette labels out there who champion this style of ambient experimentation. Consider this a friendly, long-worded reminder to keep your eyes open for Two Hands | One Engine.