Five-Eight initially emerged from the Athens/Atlanta scene largely on the strength of singer/guitarist Mike Mantione’s “Looking Up,” originally a 7-inch single, then the first (and best) track on I Learned Shut Up, the trio’s first full-length disc. The song was said to be based on Mantione’s recollection of studying the ceiling during electroshock therapy, though the fun he’s since had with the press guarantees that the story is apocryphal. Still, the singer-on-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown persona is what has sustained the band.
I Learned Shut Up introduces the sound: Mantione’s high, sometimes querulous vocals propelled by the bash and pop of bassist Dan Horowitz and drummer Patrick Ferguson. Five-Eight became a quartet with the addition of second guitarist Sean Dunn for the seven-song The Angriest Man, another record in which the best number opens the show (in this case, “My Sister Is So Strange”). The music — if not the lyrics — is slightly less frantic, and the extra guitar contributes to a richer and more varied texture. In an unsurprising choice, the record includes a cover of Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
Weirdo makes it clear that Five-Eight rises or falls on strengths already it has already revealed. Mantione’s voice will never be a gorgeous thing, but it fits his songs well, and those — notably the opener, “Mystery James,” and the obligatory psycho number, “Behead Myself” — continue to hold out the promise that he may yet knock one over the fences into immortality.