Man Man – Six Demon Bag

Man Man
Six Demon Bag

The Philadelphia collective known as Man Man has not only carved out a new free-style rock niche but has karate-chopped its way through rock ‘n roll history, sending pieces of the various genres flying in all directions. Six Demon Bag, the group’s sophomore album, is the result of randomly picking up these pieces and forcing them together with imagination, soul, vigor, and a tuneful ear as catalysts. If it sounds demented, it is. But this a welcome dementia that will take you far away from your everyday world into a 40-minute musical funhouse. If anyone remembers Danny Elfman’s troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and the soundtrack he recorded for his brother’s science fiction/comedy/musical film “Forbidden Zone”, you will have some idea as to what Man Man is up to here.

This is not music for the faint of heart. If you are looking for sweet pop, sublime indie rock, background music, or anything that you can put on and not pay attention to, stay away. You will not be able to ignore the music of Man Man or the seriously skewed vocalizations for that matter. All six members of the group lend their vocal chords to the proceedings, creating stirring choruses that are indescribably gripping. To provide insight as to what you are in for, and as an additional reference, each of the Men Men’s voices are uniquely identified in the credits as gravel pit forethroat, caveman throat, smooth throat, psycho throat, manic throat, and coyote throat. Man Man’s vocal blending remains indefinable but sounds like a fusion of Tom Waits, Danny Elfman, and Screaming Jay Hawkins with The Residents as back-up singers. Yet the results are not nearly as abrasive or inharmonious as you might think; in fact, they are hauntingly pleasurable. The lyrics are equally adventurous and, without going into explicit detail, can be construed from the peculiar song titles like “Banana Ghost,” “Skin Tension,” “Van Helsing Boombox,” “Push the Eagle’s Stomach,” and “Tunneling Through the Guy,” to name a few. But none are more venturesome as “Engwish Bwudd,” which includes a gobbledegook intro and a psychotic chant of the four f-words made famous by the giant in the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.

But the vocals are only part of this demented story. The music is equally manic, if not more so, and is constructed from various pieces of many different styles and genres, resulting in something entirely different that is exciting and fresh. Tribal drum beats, New Orleans funeral dirges, Middle Eastern inflections segueing into slick spaghetti western soundtracks with a Tom Waits sound-alike singing Cab Colloway-style swing. This is the wild, wonderful and wacky world of Man Man. Six Demon Bag manages to include all of the above as well as an exotic array of instruments, including marimba, saloon-style piano, horns, organ, sax, and assorted percussion fused together in such a way to create adventurous sonic collages that are best described as caveman rhombas. Each song is jam packed with bombastic beats, oddball percussive textures, catchy piano melodies, and intricate electric guitar and keyboard interplay, and they are held together with gusto and thunderous vocal stylings. Include some offbeat, counter-rhythmic remnants from the rock ‘n roll history books, and you have something that sounds like the off-kilter pop-rock of Wall of Voodoo turned into raucous drinking songs that you can dance to.

Listening to the tunes on Six Demon Bag is like taking a trip on a carnival thrill ride, with opener “Feathers” acting like the circus ringmaster, beckoning us in with its slick piano pounding and smooth vocals. Once inside, the fun begins quickly with the Oingo Boingo-ish, quirky dance rhythm and chanting chorus of “Engwish Bwudd.” The swinging, saloon-style dance-rock of “Bwudd” along with “Banana Ghost,” “Black Mission Goggles,” “Spider Cider,” and “Tunneling Through the Guy” are the highlight acts. Sounding more melodic and accessible than anything on the band’s debut The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face, there are still ample amounts of Man Man’s no-holds-barred, energetic musical outbursts that include some mesmerizing drumming, fuzzy guitars, and electronic sound effects.

It is apparent from listening to this album that there is more to Man Man than just making records. The liner notes lend credence to this presumption by listing various non-musical talents such as science, color, sexual trap pit, bedroom eyes, and spirit healer that some members bring to the table. Given their nonsensical musical sensibilities, intangible talents, and their excellent moustaches, along with a reputation for insanely awesome live performances, the artists in Man Man create a force to be reckoned with and provide the listener with a demented, twisted, and exuberant journey through a hip musical funhouse.