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Man Man - The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face

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Artist: Man Man

Album: The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face

Label: Ace Fu

Review date: Jan. 12, 2005

Man Man has a way of sounding huge and scrappy at the same time. "Fore throatist" Honus Honus and drummer Tiberius Lyn take a stiff and scratchy approach to their instruments, with the former’s throat strains never quite imitating growlers like Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. The percussion shows a similar restraint – potentially exotic beats, like an off-kilter waltz, are kept slightly metronomic.

Those two constants anchor Man Man's sound while the rest of the band explores pretty jagged paths. They layer familiar sounds for a small combo – electric piano, reverbed guitar, female backing – then pile on the unpredictable buzzing synths and creaking violin, even a chorus of preschoolers. Those kids show up on the first track, chanting a jingle of a melody that would have been sweet if it weren't dropped on a lurching, seasick beat. The kids’ chorus is only used on one song, but other chipmunk voices show up, and there is a do-wop passage and some furious marimba work.

Surprisingly, it never pushes things into Zappa-like silliness. For all the piano-pushed-down-the-stairs crashes, Man Man's weirdness is secondary to their moodiness. Those brighter textures make the dark underpinnings cast even longer shadows.

The melody from the initial chorus reappears halfway through the album, rendered by soulful backing vocalists. It's gentle this time, playing off woodwinds, and later overlaid with synthesizer chirps and white noise. Man Man’s music has a way of taking strange detours without disrupting the whole of the song.

They experiment with a wide range of instruments without succumbing to goofing around. That's a big accomplishment, because even the giants of compositional rock, like Can and Zappa, occasionally let looniness take over solid ideas. Throwing Dada lyrics on top of an eccentric composition can be a form of timidness, an unwillingness to accept the originality of one's own creation. Or it can be a way to sugar-coat music which is willfully complicated. Man Man are guilty when it comes to obscure lyrics and absurd juxtapositions, but they've worked this material to a point where it is cohesive.

It could be a side effect of this being a debut full-length. Officially a trio in the liner notes, perhaps they've been let loose in the candy shop, getting a chance to fill out songs that were crafted over a long period. If so, they haven't abused the privilege. It should be chaos, hearing all this stuff pushed together, but each detail is well placed. The nearly eight minutes of “Man Who Makes You Sick” moves through bits that recall ’70s fusion, gamelan orchestra, and afro-pop. Yet it doesn't come off like they're wandering around, trying to fit a bunch of small sections together, or a show of stylistic prowess. The songs here feel like they've been around for a while, and it just took an odd bunch of individuals to uncover them. If they can keep extending this approach, Man Man should be around for a while, too.

By Ben Donnelly

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