Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: Anti / Epitaph
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock
Philadelphia’s kitchen-sink rock quartet Man Man is still howling at the moon on its fourth LP, but the stomping Waits-meets-Zappa blues compositions are given space to breathe under Mike Mogis’ (Bright Eyes) refining production. Lead noisemaker Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) fiendishly uses songs as funhouses/torture chambers for his darkest relational fantasies. Just as beguiling through headphones or rattling from your Van Helsing boombox, the band’s pan-global instrumentations scrape rousing melodic heights and the grimiest of emotional lows.
You probably know the leader of Man Man by his stage name, Honus Honus. But his real name is Ryan Kattner, and it seems fitting that, for discussion of Life Fantastic, we go by his Christian name. I say that because, well, this shit is personal -- wounded, raw, deeply hurt. If 2006's Six Demon Bag -- Man Man's breakout record -- was dark and unpredictable, it was a dark and unpredictable performance, like the Bedlam community theatre or something.
Man Man are full of contradictions: They make great studio records that can't compare to the intensity of their physically demanding live show. Oh, but you really gotta pay attention to the lyrics. And their best songs are the slow ones. Their facepaint, percussion, and piano-pounding portray them as wild men, but Honus Honus' junkyard-dog howl is the projection of an old soul.
Man Man’s third album, Rabbit Habits, was perhaps one of my favourites of 2008. The combination of the rabid vocals of frontman Honus Honus, combined with lurching voodoo rhythms and rampant xylophone ensured its permanent home on both my iPod and stereo. It was as suitable for sound tracking a sunny walk to work as it was a few late night whiskeys with friends.
The city of Philadelphia is a strange, disturbing place. None other than David Lynch once described it as the “sickest, most corrupt, decaying, fear-ridden place imaginable”. Anyone who has seen even four minutes of Eraserhead should know David Lynch isn’t easy to disturb. The Philadelphia collective known as Man Man can’t really be accused of corruption, but as far as lyrical content goes, sickness, decay and fear are prevalent.
For their fourth full-length, Man Man recorded in Omaha with producer Mike Mogis (the house engineer for Saddle Creek). His input makes a big difference as he fine-tunes the songs on Life Fantastic, and tones down the disorder to create a more open, pop-friendly album than previous outings. The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face and Six Demon Bag showcased Ryan Kattner’s talent for composing rock songs out of vaudeville chaos.
Man Man’s silliness has always tended to exceed its music in terms of captivation. Sure, the records blaze by with unorthodox flash — but repeat visits tend to scrape away their idiosyncrasies. Luckily, the band’s preserved itself with a walloping live act and a self-imposed mythology; we are talking about a quartet of Honus Honus, Pow Pow, T.
Review Summary: Shave and a haircut -- two bitsPolish isn't something that normally comes to mind when someone mentions Man Man, but their latest album Life Fantastic is so meticulously clean for an album that bears the Man Man moniker, almost to the point of some confusion as to whether or not frontman Honus Honus has traded in his tennis shorts and “creepy man on the bus” mustache for a pressed suit and a business cut. Well, worries be spared. On first glance it might seem as if producer Mike Mogis, who mostly known for slapping his name on the credits of anything released by Conor Oberst's Saddle Creek label, has managed to drain the weirdness from rickety carnival fun house that is Man Man, but after all these are still Honus Honus' songs and regardless of the studio sheen placed upon them, they still, at their heart, are the bizarre ramblings of a man that has fun house mirrors for eyes.
From 2004’s gleefully weird The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face onward, every album from the Philadelphia wild men of Man Man has shown some marked improvement, a growth or maturation. 2006’s Six Demon Bag reigned in some of the looser material on their debut, as well as solidifying the “traditional” Man Man sound: skronky guitars, xylophones, Rhodes piano, horns, all drenched in raw, maniac enthusiasm. There were moments of Balkan-y acoustics, low waltzes, and pure bombastic insanity.
Philadelphia sideshow punks Man Man have reached a newfound crispness with the production guidance of Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis on their fourth album, Life Fantastic. All over the release, the band’s unique formula of organ, dusty brass, xylophone and singer Honus Honus’ one-of-a-kind rasp has been bolstered by the synthesizer trickery that appeared on 2008’s Rabbit Habits half-song spaz “El Azteca. ” But don’t think that this stew any less instrumentally varied—old-timey instrumental interludes on “Oh, La Brea” that might have passed as chintzy soundtrack fare before have become robust, and the swelling orchestral touches on “Steak Knives” cut as sharp as Honus’ lyrical intensity: “My blood runs quick like ink from a squid.