Who: Philadelphia's own Man Man
Genre: Experimental melodic mayhem
Sounds like: If Frank Zappa and Tom Waits had a child out of wedlock
Songs to download: "10 lb. Moustache," "Van Helsing Boombox"
Over the past few years, Philadelphia has offered a lot to the indie music scene. There's the folksy Espers, the raucous An Albatross, and, lately, the self-described "oddballs" known as Man Man. The five-man group arose four years ago and apparently didn't anticipate the positive response. "When we started making music it was that we were making music for ourselves. We were just following the voices that we heard and it's pretty remarkable that it connected with people," says lead singer Honus Honus.
So what are they playing? Most critical reviews tend to reference a circus or gypsy act, comparing Man Man's eclectic sound to that of Tom Waits or Captain Beefheart. Honus, however, is wary of the association: "Those are exceptionally talented musicians. With Tom Waits, he's been doing that for 30 years ... to even be compared to him I think it's kind of insulting to Tom Waits." But on the same token, he adds, "those are definitely artists with very idiosyncratic visions. They're able to do it and have support with their own thing."
Which is exactly what Man Man has been doing: creating distinct tracks that sound like nothing else out there. Using everything from glockenspiels, marimbas, flowerpots and a chorus of 30 preschoolers, the band is able to generate an impressively coherent musical exploration. Their sophomore album, Six Demon Bag, is an experiment in compositional rock: white noise, spunky backup singing, moody undertones and obscure lyrics all contribute to a richly textured listening experience.
As for the musical influences that contributed to the album, the band credits using an assortment of inspiration -- "[we were] bringing in world influences like monkey chants and a mariachi guy ... it's like 'Why not?'" The absurd amalgamation of sound, however, stays impressively tight and restrains itself from becoming purposelessly inane. Man Man is able to put all the quirk and eccentricities into one single package and tie it up nicely. They might be the most random and haphazardly assembled present the Philadelphia music scene has ever gotten, but they might also be exactly what it needed.
The City of Brotherly Love has unwrapped Man Man enthusiastically, and the group remains grateful for its success. "We're definitely very thankful that people are into our stuff. It's just a matter of we're still all light years away from quitting any sort of day jobs that we have." In fact, Honus notes, "[our] biggest influence is being really broke and never having enough money ... like, we're making this really crazy, awesome music that we really wanted to make but we don't even have enough money to make rent."
Necessity, the perpetual mother of invention and creativity, forced the band to pool whatever mixed and broken resources it had, giving way to the melodic cacophony of its debut, The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face, and producing a sound that earnestly defies trend. "Why do you want to play music you can only play for three or four years while that sound is hip?" Honus asks. "At the end of the day, bands have their expiration dates but records hopefully can keep going." And that's precisely what we can all hope Man Man will keep on doing: creating a delicious, long-lived freshness that is as infectious as it is inimitable.