Latest from Mantler takes lush turn with inspiration from '70s R&B and '60s film

After Mantler released “Landau” in 2004, mastermind Chris A. Cummings figured it would take three years to make the next record. It actually took six, in part because he was in no hurry.

“It ended up being really exhausting, getting it out on a deadline, so I decided that when the time came to record my next album, I wasn’t going to set a deadline,” Cummings tells Listen, Dammit.

That album, “Monody,” comes out Tuesday on Tomlab. It’s a bewitching collection of pristine tunes indebted to ’70s R&B, smooth jazz and hi-fi rock. We described it here as evoking the music that accompanies introspective scenes in ’70s blaxploitation films, with layers of instrumentation and a glossy sound.

“I’m a child of the ’70s, so to me, the perfect sound is the music that was coming out of my stereo and my TV when I was a little kid,” Cummings says in just one of the many facts we learned. Here are three more:

1. That ’70s sensibility is no coincidence. Indeed, it’s a reflection of Cummings’ record collection. “I have thousands of records,” he says. “I started collecting in the late ’80s. At the age of 18, I suddenly became totally obsessed with stuff like James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye and stuff like that. As a teenager, I had listened to stuff by Steely Dan, Tom Waits, XTC. At some point, I just turned a corner and became obsessed with ’70s R&B. A little bit ’60s, but mostly ’70s. I started buying ’70s jazz, but the kind of jazz that was kind of like instrumental R&B.”

2. He’s a film buff. Not only did Cummings go to film school, his day job now involves working for the Toronto International Film Festival. His love of film finds its way into his music. “A lot of my songs are about things in real life, but I try to portray life in the same way that I see it in a lot of films,” Cummings says. “Old Hollywood films are my favorite, and also French and Japanese films from the ’60s. Godard is my favorite director, and Bresson is my second favorite. They just have a very — it’s a way of getting at things that isn’t obvious and it isn’t always clear how they’re getting at it, but somehow it gets to you. That’s what I like about them.”

3. “Monody” is a blend of old and new — sometimes within the same song. “The first four songs on the album were all written in the late ’90s, they’re actually quite old,” Cummings says. In fact, “Childman,” the third track on the record, was the first song Cummings wrote as Mantler. All those songs needed was a little updating. “I rewrote them all again,” Cummings says. “I changed the lyrics and tried to recast them from an older point of view. I’m in my early 40s now and I was in my late 20s then, so I tried to take some of the things out of them that I thought were too obvious and replace them with something that was hopefully a little more wise.”

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Photo by Steve Gullick

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