Man Man: Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between (Sub Pop)

Bonkers Philly alt. rock outfit return with winning new LP, their first in seven years

Released May 1st, 2020 via Sub Pop / By Al Judkins
Man Man: Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between (Sub Pop) Six long years have passed since we were graced with an LP from the Philadelphian outfit Man Man - or “manmanbandband” as they are known on certain online handles. This author is most definitely a manmanfanfan (if that’s a term? It should be if not) and has been so ever since stumbling upon the last few bars of their set downstairs at Stealth in Nottingham circa 2007, presumably on their tour of the album Rabbit Habits. They have toured the UK since but only opening for Gogol Bordello, (opinion: this should have definitely been the other way around) for their last record, 2013’s On Oni Pond.

For what could be mistaken for a fairly pretentious album title to the unbeknownst, Dream Hunting In The Valley Of The In-Between actually has immense weight as a name and is suggestive of the vast creations concocted in frontman Honus Honus’ brain (real name Ryan Kattner) in the void between now and then. Honus has dropped a solo album betwixt the band’s present and previous release, and has gone balls-deep in acting and score-composing too, which all can act as a refreshing and essential change of scene while on hiatus from a main project.

For those unaware of the act in question’s work, the Man Man starter pack involves the following; an array of instruments unconventional to your average rock band, grouchy vocals a la Beefheart-cum-Modest Mouse, chiefly piano led tunes, and a tremendously generous seasoning from the gigantic black pepper grinder of absurdity. Dream Hunting… asks of no willy-nilly soft listen. It boasts a whooping seventeen tracks as if to say “sorry for the late delivery mate, here’s some extra prawn crackers and Cokes to make up for it”… and that’s seventeen tracks with not a nano-second of filler. You get the whole pure oak table here. As expected of them, Man Man are once again bursting with eccentric charisma whilst keeping hold of their deep rooted pop sensibilities.

Cloud Nein storms in first with a massive showtunes-style chorus, complete with gang-vox upping the feelgood levels disastrously through the roof. This was a pre-release single along with Future Peg, which drives us firmly into MMT - Mesmerising Marimba Territory. That frustratingly expensive instrument absolutely shines with pentatonic glory on this number especially, and on ‘Goat’ in which the reed instruments share said glory in one of the most captivating long-intros this side of um, erm, AC/DCs Thunderstruck? This particular track is all over Honus’ continued celebration of all things macabre, lyrically. In the vein of a half true story of his ex getting bitten by a goat, they go as “Her complexion is a curious shade of green, brighter than a bunion, paler than a peach, darker than a dungeon, a ripe sardine, she's got salmonella… she is now dead as a doornail” – reminiscent of the classic Haute Tropique from 2011’s brilliant Life Fantastic record. That line about the “dead daughter confetti” springs straight to mind.

There are more parallels between LF and DHITVOTI-B though, including the orchestral side of the compositions almost akin to iconic Disney scores and certain sixties soul relics. In addition, the re-championed use of the interludes such as Oyster Point and introduction Dreamers plays nicely into this mammoth-seeming fifty-minute outing. Speak of which, is that a mammoth’s skull on the titillating front cover sculpture? Not a skeletal expert over here but maybe it’s something to do with Animal Attraction, which, for the record, is another great piece with an Eastern jazz-tinged long intro, and a welcomed lull in tempo.

A fun observation aimed at anyone who knows/cares about music theory - there is a keenness for the devil’s interval (or the flat fifth/tritone – Google if necessary) in a few of these song choruses. This goes approved, providing welcoming sinister shades to palatable catchy sections. Sheela, which Honus dedicated to the infamous Ma Anand Sheela after watching cult Netflix doc Wild Wild Country, is one instance, as is Hunters and Lonely Beuys. Special nod to those last two for the literally-on-fire guitar solos.

On The Prettiest Song In The World, not a living soul can deny the unabashed reference to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky that drops in the final third of the song. Fact: Those same souls are totally digging it all the same! Just when you think they could possibly have a go at pushing their luck further with this, in comes that devil’s interval again to brainwash you into thinking that what you just heard didn’t happen! Another of these cheeky parodies occurs at the start of Powder My Wig (what does that even mean?) where Bowie’s famous Let’s Dance build up is lampooned in a prelude to probably the most entertaining tune on the album. It’s full of vaudevillian frolics, romantic era string sections and melodic jibes in a chorus that can’t fail to make you smirk. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Man Man record without a signatory piano and vocal ditty from Mr. Honus either. The charming eighty-one seconds of Swan eloquently ticks this off, just as much as Curtains and Mysteries Of The Universe Unraveled do on their older releases.

The songwriting in general seems more simplistic at times, just with some genius adornments intact. A quintessential sound, with new quirks to boot. There is a feeling of more “well-roundedness” (going somewhere with a wheel pottery metaphor), less need for heavy sleaze (hark back to past hit Loot My Body for just that), but equally as pungent, ready for prizing open and smelling that cheese. All the while, this is still surely taking some hemming in on its relationship with the listener three weeks after the release date. To conclude, it was a worthy six-year wait, which could be idiom-ed as a Six Demon Bag (now just shamelessly trying to name all their previous albums!) Sub-Pop have got their hands on a musical rollercoaster. Let’s hope Man Man’s touring restarts as soon it’s safe so the sooner we can go to get our fix over this side of the Atlantic - it will no doubt be a divine show. Headliners this time, yeah guys? 8/10