Man Man – Rabbit Habits

The very first time I head fellow Philly natives Man Man, I fell in love. In an industry dominated by power chords and pop hooks, Man Man offers refreshingly experimental, well-crafted chaos which flows freely through voices, guitars, and drums as well as squeaky toys, pots, spoons, cap guns, chopsticks, old shoes, fruit and stuffed frogs.

The Philly fivesome are often compared to avant-garde acts Frank Zappa, Captain Beefhart, and Tom Waits, but their music, while a roller coaster of sound, is so much more than that. Front man and songwriter Honus Honus says he draws more inspiration for the project from being broke and being in and out of relationships than he ever could listening to a record by any of the three aforementioned acts.

Man Man’s new record Rabbit Habits, to debut April 8th, more than proves that the band is, if nothing, serious in their playfulness and passion for music. Rabbit Habits begins with a string of “la’s” followed by the signature scratchy yet sexy voice of Honus Honus over well-crafted beats. Lines such as, “Take me in your arms / Out of harm’s way / I don’t want to love” prove that his songwriting style is definitely influenced by a myriad relationships rather than just being jokey. “Hurly Burly” follows, a tune with a dark 60s/70s mod feel, that begins with an erratic intro of horns and a wood block. Vocals are distorted to sound almost robotic and the entire band screams a distant scream as if they’re all falling into a bottomless pit.

“The Ballad of Butter Beans,” track 3 and one of my favorites, conjures a cartoony sound as a wooden xylophone plays behind all of Man Man’s members grunting. Honus Honus sings “Butter beans are gonna get you!” over top lovely female backing vocals, which later mimic a bell part, singing “bom, bom, bom, bom.” Track 4 opens with a hot brass section, funky riffs and more of the beautiful hollow sounds of a wooden xylophone. The end of the song showcases a full-band chorus of “You strut like a stallion / You fuck like a mule” before track 5 functions as a transition, featuring the sound of falling bombs.

“Doo Right” features a wondeful doo wop piano part behind Honus’ squeaking vocals as he sings of personal troubles, “My collective memories are in shambles / And so are my scruples.” “Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos” follows with pounding percussion and bouncy keyboard and guitar arrangements. It lies in the same lyrical vein as “Doo Right,” talking of the frustrating aspects of love: “You get the girl / You lose the girl / The girl walks back but / You’ve already moved on.” It begs the question, “Why can’t anything be easy,” which is more than an easy question to relate to. The sound on “Easy Eats” is classic Man Man, bouncy and driving featuring a repetitive chorus of “Ain’t got nobody / Ain’t got nobody to blame,” reminiscent of “Black Mission Goggles.”

Track 8, “Harpoon Fever (Queequegs Playhouse)” begins with a surf rock sound behind the band’s collective shouting before Honus’ raspy voice launches into song backed by melodic female vocals and trippy synth effects. “El Azteca” follows with a sound that immediately reminds me of Drum Buddy. I imagine Quintron and Miss Pussycat and the Man Man fellas would be wonderful friends. That is a tour I’d love to see. The Drum Buddy-esque music is accompanied and complimented by eerie robotic vocals, which end abruptly as the song comes to an unexpected halt.

The disc’s title track has a jaunty piano part and is slower-paced and more subdued than the rest of the album. It reminds me of their cover of the Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes,” recorded for hit Showtime show “Weeds,” which was a fabulous cover that you should stream on Man Man’s MySpace page immediately after you’ve finished reading this review. The next song, “Top Drawer,” is another one that is reminiscent of “Black Mission Goggles” in its overall feel. A steady beat is accompanied by more wooden xylophone (another instrument that doesn’t get enough play time) and driving riffs. Honus’ sporadic screams make the track truly enjoyable.

“Poor Jackie” is an epic song about desparation that begins with a beautiful violin intro and steady, stomping beat. Rather than falling for her wiles, Honus sings, “I don’t see what everybody / Sees in your sexy body / All I see is a shallow grave / Trapped inside a pretty face.” A plucky guitar creates the bridge before the beat slows down slightly, creating a more appropriately haunting tune for Honus’ almost tortured, slightly self-loathing lyrics, “I wanna crawl in your autumn mouth / And feel the crows pick me apart inside / And everything that you said is true / I’m on a downward spiral towards you / …And I need to get back to you / And lay this heavy head in your lap.”

The album ends with the almost jazzy “Whalebones,” a sad tune featuring horns, a steady wood block beat and melancholy radiating from Honus’ voice. Rabbit Habits is one of my favorite albums of the year, thus far, and will more than likely end up at the top of the list come year in review lists. Be sure to grab a copy of Man Man’s Rabbit Habits, their debut for Anti Records, on Tuesday, April 8th.

I’ll be at the highly anticipated CD release show at Philadelphia’s Starlight Ballroom, so check back for a rundown of the antics stirred up by Man Man and openers The Dirty Projectors and The Extraordinaires. If you’ve read this far and wanna check out the record release show, email me why you need to be there, or why you’re fun to go see a show with, or just tell me a good story, and win the coveted +1 spot! My +1, my whim as to who wins. I do love you all, though!

But most importantly, pick up Rabbit Habits on Tuesday!!

Man Man: website | myspace | interview | art
Anti Records: website | blog

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2 Responses

  1. […] Jessica McGinley | Editor-in-Chief | Philadelphia *Five Favorites: 1. Man Man – Rabbit Habits review 2. Mr. Gnome – Deliver This Creature review 3. Quitzow – Art College review 4. Estelle – Shine 5. […]

  2. […] The band blasted through older songs like “Black Mission Goggles” and tracks from their newest release Rabbit Habits including “Big Trouble,” “The Ballad of Butter Beans” (my favorite), and […]

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