tracy manuel is a genre-fluid songwriter making outsider dream pop from the recesses of Northern California
Tracy Manuel was born and raised in the “other California” — Far NorCal, where the rivers run faster and the Internet runs slower. Starting her teenage years gigging in bars as a drummer, she went on to make a name for herself as a multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter in the local country music scene, sharing the stage and studio with members of hometown hero Merle Haggard’s band. Manuel also got an underage glimpse of the inner workings of Redding — prominent on many “Most Miserable Towns of America” lists — and a growing obsession with how it got that way.
Her 2018 self-produced album, Purgatory, CA, is an unflinching alt-country portrait of coming of age in contemporary rural America. Manuel stands witness to a multiplicity of devastations, from self-sabotage to harmful ideologies to natural — and unnatural — disasters. With most of the songs written months before her hometown was ravaged by the 2018 Carr Fire, these tales of ash and disillusionment reach beyond one community’s tragedy to reveal a national malaise.
Two years and many rounds national malaise later, 2020’s Emergency Contacts was recorded during a smoky, quarantined summer in the belly of the Sacramento valley. Shedding acoustic roots-rock inflections entirely, Emergency Contacts is a DIY dream-pop digitization of intimacy fit for the social distancing era. Programmed beats, fragmented samples, modulated guitars are interwoven with intrepid improvisations from an eclectic roster of musical guests. Recounted through diaristic vignettes and suffused with warm, electric shimmer, it’s a breakup record for the end of the world.