Man Man Six Demon Bag

[Ace Fu; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: experimental rock
Others: Tom Waits, Need New Body, Deerhoof

The same tired tropes pop up in practically every Man Man review or article: casting the band as a pack of rowdy cooks, placing their work somewhere along the Partch/Beefheart/Waits axis of American mavericks, and constantly alluding to barroms, alleyways, and other settings that seem prime for the romantic sublimation of grit into narrative gold. If this framework does indeed describe Man Man's project, then Six Demon Bag is merely the latest instance in which the band's actual music comes off like a limp handshake in comparison to the proposed ideal. Man Man aren't a flock of miscreants; they're a bunch of kids who love to play dress-up. They don't align themselves with the Waitsian ethos as much as they appropriate select elements of its style and form and assimilate them into a more amiable brand of oddball indie-pop. And their sleaze-encrusted stories don't hold as much weight as literature as they do as AIM away messages (this album's prime example: "When anything that's anything becomes nothing/ that's everything/ and nothing is the only thing you ever seem to have").

The solution to enjoying this album, then, is to not ask it to provide heavy drama, high art, or fiery revolt – it's just pop music with a slight twist, and it's first and foremost about having a good time inhabiting glamorous guises and histrionic voices. "Black Mission Goggles" sums the album up tidily (assuming there's much to sum up in the first place): it's a rambling mid-tempo jaunt that sounds eerily like the verse in The Beatles' "Come Together" and features nonsensical wordplay that seems more interested in sound than story. And so the rest of the disc goes, pillaging the Anglo-American pop landscape for firm melodies, exoticizing them with dabs of dreary eastern European folk and Morriconian swagger, and accenting them with whimsical, rhythmically-charged language. When these elements congeal into something remarkably close to conventional pop music, a self-ironizing tendency kicks in and reminds us that the band is just monkeying around – see the mock-falsetto "shoo-ba-do"s in "Ice Dogs" – and when a bandroom's worth of discordant strings, mallet instruments, and horns erupts into utter clamor, solid forms quell them with their inescapable gravitational fields.

Six Demon Bag isn't as zany as it is equivocal; it provides such solid formal resolution that all of its pleasurable misadventures seem arbitrary when viewed in the grand scheme of the album. Man Man sound like they're having a good time, though, so it's easy for us to have one as well.

1. Feathers
2. Engwish Bwudd
3. Banana Ghost
4. Young Einstein on the Beach
5. Skin Tension
6. Black Mission Goggles
7. Hot Bat
8. Push the Eagle's Stomach
9. Spider Cider
10. Van Helsing Boombox
11. Tunneling Through the Guy
12. Fishstick Gumbo
13. Ice Dogs

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