Sunburned Hand of the Man Complexion

[Records; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: free folk, new weird america, psycho-delic kraut rock
Others: No Neck Blues Band, Can, Tower Recordings

Sunburned Hand of the Man, the nation's foremost collective of freaktastic avant-groovesters, is taking over the business of salvation. Complexion, their second vinyl release of the year and fifty bigillionth release of all time, is goddamn miraculous. The album, which was recorded live at the Sommerville Community Growing Center in 2004, almost covers the gamut of possibilities in the band's sound, from avant-jazz to Eastern spiritual music to ambient noise. Throughout the majority of the LP, there is a sense of fluidity, as though each band member is anticipating the next move. It is so tight that the sides are not labeled and each side sounds like it could be the start of the jam.

I prefer to start the album on side B, which begins with a few tentative strikes of guitar chords and keyboards, with slight interjections of noise above a progressing drum-machine back beat. It evolves into an entrancing spiritual chant for a minute and then the band gets down to bidness. A black hole of echoing guitar notes, squelching saxophone, moaning, chanting, and various forms of percussion sucks the listener into the skulls of the collective. The spacey jam represents a bridge between traditional music of the East (at least from the constructed vantage of the Westerner) and avant-garde jazz of the West. The vocalizations are comparable to Sun City Girls' estimation of Eastern tongues. At times, the band doesn't quite synch up, but when they do, they evoke the vision of a many-limbed being of a single mind.

Side A exists in the distant sphere of denizens of other SBHOTM electric psychedelic jams. It commences with an electric groove that sounds like Ravi Shankar fronting Can. Tweaky electronic sounds soon take over and there is a plucking of guitar strings. The band segues in and out of atmospheric noise drone and minimalist noodling, eventually fading into tribal drumbeats with distant ethereal noise. The band then implodes into one of the best layered-psychedelic meltdowns this side of Acid Mothers Temple. Then the groove kicks in like a thousand microdots. A cosmic guitar line guides the astral funkiness. Phasar sounds and shattering vocals encompass the jam. The jam then is cut short by the end of the playable part of the vinyl.

One of my colleagues at TMT recently questioned whether Sunburned Hand of the Man actually know what a song is. I've talked to them before and they seem like intelligent individuals. Obviously they know the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure of a song. It's just that they would much rather create entrancing soundscapes that meld into krautrock grooves, and they are too fucking good at it to leave it behind for conventional song structures.

Side A
1. The fuck Face
2. Glass Mask
3. Defacing the Facts
4. Adult Costume
Side B

1. The Main Vein
2. Dancing with the Double Edged Sword