It's rare that someone as analytical and disinterested as I am is incapacitated by an album. But as soon as opener "Mister Jung Stuffed" staggered out of its knot of tape noise into a classic spy riff to begin Rabbit Habits, Man Man's third LP, my bodily vessel rebelled. The song jolted through any free joint or muscle it could conscript, pushing me off my chair and into a Lindy Hop with a desk lamp.
Then Honus Honus and the rest of the gang unleashed "Hurly/ Burly," whose bass line managed twice the funk of its predecessor and whose xylophones and screaming kids carried me fondly back to Man Man's 2004 debut, The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face. By the midway point, the boys had completely hijacked my involuntary functions and were using my liver as a piñata. And bonus bonus points for the kazoos, which bring up the bile of their live show.
Man Man has a knack for introducing its songs into the listener's body like new organs, unquestioned and vital. Even now, "Top Drawer" is rattling around in my head like a shriveled brain stem. What's more is that the band seems aware of this contagion; its lyrics are wrapped up in the unconscious, concerned with visceral attraction and dreamlike communication. Pieces like the appropriately titled opener read like black boxes from which erupt the most oblique but nightmarishly affecting noises and imagery. "Jung" turns the unconscious into a realm of espionage and intrigue as Honus Honus strains like an id toward the surface: "I've been locked down way too long/ Been locked down way too long." Later, in the gorgeous doo-wop of "Doo Right," he mutters about "collective memory," and in "Easy Eats" he describes a classically Freudian dream of teeth falling out into the street.
Rabbit Habits struck me most where it rescues the jazziness that's sorely missing from 2006's Six Demon Bag. At the same time, though, the band continues to develop some productive tendencies from that sophomore outing. Thus, "Big Trouble" opens with a horn section that recalls the big-band gestures of The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face while evincing a melancholic tenderness that the debut never quite hit. The post-apocalyptic romance of "Rabbit Habits" achieves a similar marriage with its candid duet between piano and bassoon.
In their ceaseless trek through novel territory, Man Man's cosmonauts often split and distill their inclinations instead of blending them into a normative "identity." Such surgery results in hallucinations like "El Azteca," which pushes the electronic leanings of their first album into Devo's absurd kingdom; like the numerous piano ballads that loft Six Demon Bag's airiness into even more stratospheric heights; like the guitar work that assumes a greater burden throughout this album, especially in the various riffs that underly the surprisingly affecting film noir of "Poor Jackie." And for the most part, these experiments succeed with miles to spare.
Rabbit Habits's greatest aspect is this sundered, schizophrenic psyche. Honus Honus no longer feels the need to cloak his inclinations toward jazz and doowop in parody or behind cartoonish voices and instrumentation. Meanwhile, as the xylophone farce of "The Ballad of Butter Beans" attests, he doesn't shy away from unabashed cartooning either. After all, dreams and absurdist art deliver the greatest emotional impact when the line is blurred between sincerity and lightness.
As I internalize all the mystifying symptoms of Rabbit Habits's lovelorn dogs and rotting zombies, I realize that what makes Man Man great is that its inspirations are not merely musical. They are bodily and avian, geological and cosmological, scientific and sorcerous.
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