Record Reviews: Man Man, Tokyo Police Club, Roommate
Man Man | Rabbit Habits | Anti-
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If Man Man didn’t exist, they’d need to be invented just so you could hate on ’em. Unapologetically following in the tradition of intentionally abrasive and mostly annoying and overrated forerunners like Zappa, Beefheart and Waits [Ed: You’re fired, Cohen], the band pull their entire visual aesthetic from a shallow grab bag of everything that bugs you about Brooklyn (even if they’re from Philly): war paint, tennis shorts, silly pseudonyms (you all know Honus Honus, but what about Sergey Sogay?), drums for all! — and mustaches, which they also write songs about. But even beyond that, they’re intentionally standoffish about producing the kind of record that could win skeptics over; Six Demon Bag contained some emotionally devastating songs, like “Van Helsing Boombox,” but for every one of those, you got aural ice picks like “Push the Eagles Stomach” and “Young Einstein on the Beach.”
I’ll stop short of saying Rabbit Habits (named after a dildo, natch) is the Man Man album for people who hate Man Man. It’s more of a Man Man album for people who want to like Man Man but never made it out to a show or got through any of their previous records. Despite some seriously affecting downers like the sour-stomach title track and the epic “Poor Jackie,” in a lot of ways, it’s the band’s most virile record, drawing more from rock and funk than from klezmer or waltz. “Top Drawer” has a vainglorious swagger, but in typical form, the hook (possibly the strongest here) is mostly Honus repeating “hot dog.” Rhyming “lipstick” with “dilz-nick” (“The Ballad of Butter Beans”) is dangerous business, and “I’m the bratwurst in your bun” (“Big Trouble”) is wrong on many levels.
And yet the album ends up being slightly unsatisfying. Go to YouTube if you have to, but listen to the terse piano buildup in “Harpoon Fever (Queequeg’s House)” and marvel at how 2-D the blastoff in the verse sounds. Perhaps it’s an affiliation with the “tasteful” likes of Anti- records, but there’s no reason these unkempt youngsters should be using the heat-and-serve Franco-Americanisms of DeVotchka and Beirut as a sonic template.
Various Artists | Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music, Volume 5 | Sub Rosa
This series of releases digging into the roots of an art that has somehow evolved into a popular genre called “electronic music” (which now means dance music) is invaluable if only for an explanation of how the most radical art forms generally come to inform and even define contemporary art and culture. This edition highlights electronic explorations of the voice, not as a melodic instrument or vehicle for literal communication but as an excellent sound source through distortion, electronic filtering, musique concrète (tape-collage) and other methods. The pieces are grouped as a conceit according to particular techniques, country of origin, characteristic studio sound and historical relevance, and as predictors of future directions. An international spectrum of artists with widely varying approaches includes Charlemagne Palestine, Pere Ubu, Léo Kupper’s stunning “Electro-poème” and Japanese noise master Masonna’s awesome “Spectrum Ripper,” among many others. The double-disc set’s deluxe digi-pack, which includes a 54-page booklet, is a thing of beauty too.
Langhorne Slim | Langhorne Slim | Kemodo
In a recent Razorcake interview, Greg Cartwright of the Reigning Sound theorized that nowadays, musicians who are trying to emulate roots music aren’t capable of delivering effectively because they’re too good. This statement may seem like a grave impropriety, but alas, it proves true: The presentation, the production value, the musicianship are overly perfected and therefore don’t capture the original home-fried palette of the greats being echoed. This Langhorne Slim record falls into that category. He is a damn good musician, but as with bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, the music is too tame; lovely but bootless. It is easy to envision Langhorne Slim accumulating fans with this record, as tracks “Rebel Side of Heaven” and “Oh Honey” especially have catchy hooks, but as the lyrics in “Restless” state, “I felt restless and I felt soft/I didn’t know anymore who I was ripping off.” Agreed. “Oh Honey” is the gem of the album (also the shortest track), an antilove song in the tradition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” but sans the stinging poeticisms that make Dylan’s 1963 classic indispensable.
Roommate | We Were Enchanted | Plug Research
Chicago’s Roommate, a.k.a. Kent Lambert, has grown, quite literally. We Were Enchanted opens with “Day After,” and in less than three minutes, much ground is covered. There are melancholy, triumph, pacing and levity. There are synthesizers, drums, bells, strings, guitar, choral vocals and a “canjo.” There are 12 musicians. And this, quite clearly, is the start of an orphaned soundtrack. Roommate’s music is impeccably arranged and often beautiful but studied. “New Steam” borrows heavily from David Axelrod’s “The Edge,” while “We Were Enchanted” cribs its intro from Smog’s “Justice Aversion” before climbing to Homogenic-worthy histrionics. Unfortunately, Lambert misses the point: Smog’s meanderings into electronics feel like brilliant accidents; Björk’s approach is expansive; Lambert’s is precise. It’s theater, and the vocals compete with the drama, like Bonnie “Prince” Billy aping Jens Leckman without a language barrier to explain lyrical wonkiness (i.e., overwrought portrayals of plain folk during wartime). Enchanted is a solid step forward, but a sideways leap could do Roommate wonders. —Chris Martins
Tokyo Police Club |Elephant Shell | Saddle Creek
Blame Jenny Lewis. After going one and done on Saddle Creek, nearly everyone associated with the label abandoned Omaha and, as Rilo Kiley put it, “its booming music scene” to head out to L.A. It’s a move that was perhaps inevitable but nonetheless damaging to the imprint’s identity as having a grip on insular self-reference unmatched outside of DipSet. I suppose it’s for the best if it can bring in more bands like this.
Ostensibly, Tokyo Police Club are diametrically opposed to the likes of the Obersts and Kashers; it’s hard to believe an album as unyieldingly modest as Elephant Shell could be the subject of such a whirling buzz torrent. Though Tokyo Police Club are unquestionably young and fashionable (I mean, that name!), all those prefab Strokes quips don’t quite fit: If comparisons are necessary, think, perhaps, 100 Broken Windows–era Idlewild, a precocious band that also dealt in aw-shucks hooks and just-this-side-of-lit-major pretense. It’s not easy to grasp much on the first couple of listens; melodically, many of these songs turn on the same hinge, and by the time you’ve got things figured out, its 31 minutes have already lapsed.
And yet, brevity is the soul of its replay value. Vocalist Dave Monks isn’t so much guarded as he is a shrinking violet, often dispensing lyrics like, “It’s no fun playing cowboys for pretend” over sleek but surprisingly spare rave-ups — check the video for “Tessellate,” which renders the guitarist almost as superfluous as a Deftones DJ. Imagine Colin Meloy marooned in Williamsburg with no instrument ever used in an orchestra, and you’ve got a thumbnail sketch. Then again, no pencil jeans are too tight to keep precocious teens from flailing about to the likes of “In a Cave” or “Your English Is Good,” which crank the BPM without sacrificing the IQ or Q rating.
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