DJ Manny
DJ Manny Credit: Courtesy the artist

Manuel Gaines, who performs as DJ Manny, was ten years old when he first heard footwork music at a party. Before long, the Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based producer met two titans of the genre, DJ Spinn and the late DJ Rashad, with whom he eventually collaborated on a handful of tracks. Manny has multiple releases under his belt, but the new Signals in My Head (Planet Mu) is the first to be specifically focused on R&B and centered on love. That means some of these cuts have a softer edge than the jagged, raw music on his 2017 Teklife release Greenlight. Opener “Never Was Ah Hoe,” for example, combines hand drums, a shifting beat, a melancholy vocal sample, and a soft synth pad to create a spacious, intimate atmosphere. The sort of love DJ Manny aims to capture is true to life: messy, complex, and rooted in vulnerability. He works economically to capture its multifaceted nature. On “Wants My Body,” he flips the 1983 Class Action version of disco scorcher “Weekend,” zooming in on a single line: “Maybe I’ll find someone, somebody who wants my body, baby.” The original song sounds eager and expectant, but DJ Manny uses a stuttering footwork beat to reveal an underlying anxiety in the staccato-sung lyrics. “Good Love” does even more with less: vocal samples constantly reverberate as synths ring out like sirens, and then a drum ’n’ bass beat anchors everything to inject an uneasy urgency. On “At First Site” DJ Manny doesn’t need words at all, conjuring up wistful longing with icy piano keys and a wonky synth melody. Best of all is the title track, which thrives on the interplay between layered synths and an evolving beat. It’s at once scattered and contented, like someone working through personal issues in order to wholly commit to a relationship. The capacity of DJ Manny’s songs to evoke such stark, specific images and moods is a testament to his craft: throughout Signals in My Head, you never doubt that he knows what he’s doing.   v