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Man Forever - Pansophical Cataract

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Artist: Man Forever

Album: Pansophical Cataract

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: May. 14, 2012

Inspired by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, Man Forever achieves a similar feat — to engage in pursuits that are generally the province of the avant-garde without ceding an iota of essential rock attitude. But while Lou Reed waited over three decades before he revisited MMM, Oneida drummer Kid Millions has made three Man Forever records in two years. The title of this latest one is an impressive bit of self-referential hubris; essentially it means know-it-all waterfall, and the beats do pour down upon you like a post-cloudburst surge racing to sea level at Milford Sound. And while the Kid’s command of total human knowledge cannot be ascertained from the album’s contents, he sure knows how to keep drum music from descending into drum circle tedium.

Just as there was more to MMM than one man going on a speed jag in a studio with a bunch of amps, there’s more to Man Forever than manic bashing. There’s a science to these sounds. The drum skins are tuned to ensure the presence of certain frequencies, so that tones dance and weave between the beats. In concert, the pieces run from 25 to 40 minutes, long enough for you to get quite lost in them, but on record the Kid cuts them down to an LP-friendly 18 minutes. He also gives the drums a bit of help, using organ, bass and guitar to add layers of presence without compromising the music’s fundamental focus upon beats, tones, and the blurred boundaries between them.

Both of the pieces on Pansophical Cataract begin with a pair of drummers playing similar patterns on a single drum. “Surface Patterns” soon reveals a depth at odds with its name, as a bass line snakes slowly under the dueling sticks and a throbbing organ chord pushes against the wall of sound like a prairie wind against a barn wall. The main action is in the addition and withdrawal of static tonal masses that cause the musical pressure to shift and build with satisfying force and eventfulness. “Ur Eternity” shifts more subtly. For its first five minutes, it sticks pretty close to the two-drummer live performance that you can experience here. Gradually extra drummers add to the shower of beats, but it’s still a shock when a bass materializes around the eight-minute mark. This turns into a duet, two basses blurting at each other across a field of beats like two giant frogs trying to outbelch each other in some primordial song-battle to see who’s king of the swamp. Get between ‘em and your ass will be kicked; what could be more rock and roll than that?

By Bill Meyer

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