My Top 20 Albums of 2011: #2 Man Man’s “Life Fantastic”
Why It’s Good: Topping my list of best bands I have ever seen live would be the Philadelphia based Man Man (Caveate: best individual band, not show). Their energy was infectious, the rollicking good time they were having up on stage, jumping around their strangely arranged instruments and making every effort to convey the energy of their music through themselves. In many ways, this has made their albums fall a bit short of what they are actually capable of doing, because even a live recording or DVD can’t capture that spirit when your eyes go wide like a child at Christmas and suddenly you’re part of everything happening at that very moment. Man Man is just the sort of musical anarchy I love, holding everything together with spit and duct tape but managing to make that much more interesting than most music I have heard since. They embody the spirit of Frank Zappa’s childish humor, Captain Beefheart’s strange sensibilities, Tom Waits’ growling seedy underbelly and Elton John’s love of the vibrantly grandiose. Life Fantastic sees the band continuing this, though in a slightly more controlled way. While it certainly hits fever pitch at several points it is a much more somber affair, the darkness pervading over the merriment, making the title fit so well since the specter of the inevitable must always be there. Honus Honus often reminds me of a piano player in an Old West tap room, banging the keys with all his fury and just belting away without a care as to what people might be hearing. His voice has this wonderful lilting growl to it that is virulent, causing your toes to tap along with its own beat. This is all lifted by the continual use of both incoming voices, often providing commentary of emphasis and the bands continues love of doo wop harmonies, often resulting in jarring changes in tone from song to song, but still giving that heavenly touch to whatever they’re singing. The lyrical content is strange and full of odd metaphors to match their ranging music. “Steak Knives" a song apparently written from a very dark place manages to still inject a degree of frivolity to the gloom of loss: "And I want some cake,/and you that high./We both want a piece of what will quicken the rot./We gotta wait for the day the dead will rise;/wait for the day dust settles in our." The tangled shape of the events unfolding recalls shifting scenes of desire versus the mundanity of death, a jumble certainly, but one that reflects the continued struggle of us fragile humans to make sense of the melange of emotion that make up our hearts. The instrumentation for Life Fantastic, like most their albums, is largely piano based, having that rag time feel, but Man Man will pull out any instrument they can think of to make a song fit their vision. My personal favorite is their love of xylophone, which doesn’t seem like a rock n roll instrument, but gives this nice treble touch, as if skeletons are dancing along to the music. 8-bit processors, guitars and all sorts of instruments I wouldn’t have a clue as to what they are manage to keep the shifting patterns together with the song structures always keeping a brisk pace that never falls into the trap of being boring by having a particularly standard structure. Life Fantastic’s meditation of darker leanings may seem to go against the mission of the band to make life much more fun, but in a way, it is this attitude that glorifies these facts, that gives a dichotomy of fear against what makes fear worth the cost. Though the world may weigh on our shoulders Man Man is there to let you know that you aren’t alone and that there is always something to keep going for.
Is It Guitar Pornography?: It’s more of an emphasis instrument than anything else.
Favorite Track: Knuckle Down