Sunburned Hand of the Man Fire Escape

[Smalltown Supersound; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: free-folk, New Weird America, psycho-delic krautrock
Others: Can, Four Tet, club music for weirdos and shut-ins, the maniac noise inside the right side of your brain

Sunburned Hand of the Man ain’t everybody’s bag of gold. Be that as it may, to approach an album of this stripe with any real clarity, you’ve gotta understand the territory and scope in which it operates, and the music Sunburned make certainly ain’t your regular romp of straightforward rock. If yer lookin’ for catchy hooks and memorable choruses, then look elsewhere. Most of the tunes blazing out of their woodshed are unclassifiable, making them one of the most interesting bands to emerge out of the dawn of neo-psychedelic noise.

As for Sunburned’s ninth opus, Fire Escape, an album that not only vacated every room I played it in, but also ran roughshod over me to the degree that it kept me awake and buzzing until noon for five days straight, is roughly 45 minutes of shrieks, distortion, and noise layers played at various frequencies and volumes. But Sunburned don't get all the credit. Kieran Hebden (of Four Tet) produced this album and had as much a hand in the fruition of this album’s distinctive sound and vision as the band itself. And what a treat is is, as rarely do we get two experimental heavyweights collaborating on one project.

Musically, this tome delves into sonic polarities and diverging extremes, while lashing together a veritable hodgepodge of musical styles, re: African beat, Svengali hisses, atonal noise, electronic blips, sound clips, drone, Euro-trance, etc. Each track summons an entirely different mood than the preceding one, which is often intriguing, albeit occasionally frightening (particularly the title track and "The Wind Has Ears"). The tone, meanwhile, fluctuates between chaos and clarity, inasmuch that it’s somewhat reminiscent of Miles Davis’ Live Evil (well, at least conceptually), making the total effect downright schizoid.

But for all its idiosyncratic brilliance, the detail I find most interesting is that some of the moments contained herein are actually danceable (at least when you’re blitzed on pills). In fact, Norway’s dance maestro Björn Torske remixed the song "The Parakeet Beat" into a club single, which is a testament to Sunburned’s range and determined exploration into every facet of music/sound.

Obviously, Sunburned’s brand of boogie goes beyond most ideas of what constitutes conventional songwriting, largely due to the fact that they operate under no creative restrictions whatsoever. Their MO is simply to barrage your senses with mental pictures/films, and their yawpings are designed to challenge/explore the definitions of sound and music. Interestingly, that’s what most people fail to realize: this noise-experiment requires participation on the listener’s part. The only way to appreciate Sunburned's brand of noise for its potentially limitless capabilities is to meet it halfway, and if you do, Fire Escape will surely kick your eardrums across the romper-room.

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