A band name like Man Man implies excess, exaggeration, amplification, superhuman artistic possibilities. In this case it also means members with stage names like Honus Honus and Tiberius Lyn. The name isn’t subtle, and neither is Man Man’s outrageous debut full-length, The Man in the Blue Turban with a Face. It is a riotous and jubilant collection of cabaret-cum-rock songs bubbling over with enough energy to light a small town and enough instruments to fill a large attic.
Vocalist and keyboardist Ryan Kattner (a.k.a. Honus Honus) sings with a belly full of beer and a chest full of heartache. “Gold Teeth” has Kattner confessing his bloated love on some lonely urban rooftop while his band’s instrumental panoply swirls sympathetically below. And “White Rice, Brown Heart” sounds like a Tim Burton nightmare come to life with Kattner and guest vocalist Liz Rywelski screaming their red-faced desire at each other over circus beats and chromatic piano.
Though Kattner’s Tom Waits baritone is the plug keeping Man Man’s rickety ship afloat, tracks like “Zebra” and “I, Manface” pull from such desperate genres with such ingeniously juxtaposed instrumentation that a film (or theatrical) score doesn’t seem too far away. This cut-and-paste aesthetic is especially effective on the epic “Man Who Make You Sick” whose dizzying song-structure packs everything from synths to clarinets to feral human shrieks over Tom Keville’s (a.k.a. Tiberius Lyn) ever-shifting percussion in its near eight minutes of deliciousness.
Man Man’s music often walks a thin line between revelatory and masturbatory, but the originality and pure nerve of this Philadelphia-based crew’s debut trumps these concerns more often than not. The Man in the Blue Turban with a Face doesn’t fit easily into any of pop’s various molds, nor does it give the listener much interpretive leverage, but it certainly isn’t ashamed about any of it. Instead, Man Man bets you’ll at least be wooed by their reckless exuberance and macabre obsessions, and that despite the fact that their album won’t make fast friends with the rest of your record collection, you’ll keep wondering what the hell they’re playing on track ten.