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Man Man
Life Fantastic


The animal sculpture on the cover of Man Man’s Life Fantastic aptly represents the music kneaded into shape by the Philadelphia act. The creature looks like a wildly creative mishmash of elements – cloth, metal, leather, hair – with a disheveled and slightly unstable image that’s equaled by a unique and awkward appeal. Musically, that’s what’s encountered on the album’s 11 tracks. On the surface the material seems unkempt but there’s actually strict precision involved that manipulates the beautifully mad juxtaposition of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Bonzo Dog Band, Broadway, Carl Stalling, Tom Waits, classic pop and kiddie tunes. Man Man may owe a ‘thank you’ to these influences but the members sound liberated rather than imprisoned by them. In the end they are only themselves. And that’s a mighty joyous sum of multiple parts.

With its choppy rhythm and distorted electric piano leading the way “Knuckle Down” works as the introduction to the funhouse the listener has just entered. “Piranhas Club” brings with it an ebullient bounce, while “Eel Bros” sounds like a theme to a children’s cartoon show. But it turns out that the jagged and layered arrangements mimic the dark inner core of the albums lyrics, which find their torment based on the centuries-old pursuit, lack and loss of love. Like candy, the blend of styles make for a sweet confection but there are layers and depth to the material that makes it much more than a novelty of melodies played with a manic energy. Finishing up the candy theme, you accidentally discover a nut rather than a soft nougat center and it cracks a tooth when you bite down on it. “Steak Knives” slows the pace down in order to mull over an overwhelmed mind and then lands its verbal arrow, appropriately, at the song’s conclusion. Later, the desire on “Oh, La Brea” to just drift away elicits a beautiful dreamy ending for a band that doesn’t recognize the word ‘decaffeinated.’

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