The ‘Fantastic’ Man Man

Courtesy of Ace Fu Records

Man Man’s most promising and enticing trait is how little they hold back on energy. As in: they don’t.

“Life Fantastic” is their latest romp, the fourth time they have released upon the world a rampaging angry mob of sound bent on pillaging our ears, smashing our eardrums and setting fire to that space in our brain dedicated to keeping us calm in our everyday lives. They call these William T. Sherman-style mind-razings “albums,” though in the past they’ve been more akin to being mauled by a gang of war-painted badgers.

This time is no different. “Life Fantastic” is a wonderfully exhilarating and extremely wild album. While not as fast as one might expect from such an unregulated expression of brutish ferocity, the sentiment is still present in the staccato piano and rolling drum beats. With no shortage of insane energy, these steady marches roll right up to your face and scream in that delightfully deranged combination of frontman Honus Honus’s coarse growl and the rest of the band’s somewhat shrill falsetto accompaniment.

“Dark Arts,” the fourth track on the album, might be where this violent intensity is exhibited most freely. Its introduction attacks listeners with a fast-paced piano riff. While this track is where the speed may peak, it is only one piece in the puzzle that makes up Man Man’s sound.

Though not as fast, tracks like “Spooky Jookie” will bring back fond memories of the jangling piano for which Man Man is so well-known. Accompanied by strings and various other instruments, the music and Honus’ vocals are at times in response to one another, building into choruses that emphasize the carnival-esque tones embodied so heavily by the band in general.

Another song which capitalizes on the feeling that these songs might also work as drunken back-alley lamentations is “Steak Knives.” Despite being the third track on the album, it halts some of  the intensity in favor of a quiet acoustic song. Make no mistake, though – this is no romantic ballad. Instead, Honus bays lyrics like “I’ve been here before, / I’ll be here again. / My blood runs quick like ink from a squid” to emphasize the somewhat depraved lunacy strung throughout the entire album. While quiet, this track is in tone no less unhinged than the rest of the album.

Adding still to the diversity of sound is “Haute Tropique,” which changes in aural setting from a carnival to a jungle in Southeast Asia and appears to be about cannibalism (and the subsequent repurposing of human remains to create things like rugs, lampshades, chairs and paperweights). Though a good track in its own right, the instrumentation makes the song seem like it might also be played over loudspeakers at Adventureland in Disneyland if not for the lyrics describing among other things a woman who “had three daughters / who drove her fucking crazy.”  Still, Man Man manages to add their own flare on a perhaps over-exotic departure and walks away with their dignity intact.

Similarly exotic, “Piranhas Club” is almost swing-like in its decidedly upbeat jangling. While it comes as another surprise, the track’s simplicity and straightforwardness are done well and result in an extremely solid track.

Also worth mention is “Eel Brothers,” an instrumental track that lasts less than a minute. What it lacks in vocals, it makes up for in synthetic trills. It is a mere sketch compared to “Shameless,” though, which boasts almost seven minutes of tape. In that space, the band moves through segments of bare crawls and faster crescendos, a staggered and shorter summary of the album in general.

While intensely good, “Life Fantastic” and Man Man in general are not for the faint of heart. This is not an album to give to your girlfriend on your four-year anniversary (unless she’s into this sort of thing, in which case cheers to you and good luck), nor is it something to listen to if you’re prone to road rage. Caught unawares, the casual listener will be jarred by Man Man’s chaotic engine of aural intensity, but don’t let this dissuade you from giving them a chance. While your mind may be spinning in the intoxication of warpaint (I’m not kidding, they wear warpaint when they play live), Man Man and “Life Fantastic” will not disappoint.

Rating: 4/5 Stars