Man Man’s Life Fantastic goes mainstream?

Saying Life Fantastic is Man Man goes mainstream would be an overstatement (it’d be a nice headline though). However, this album does have a rounder, brighter, sound; it has catchy choruses; it uses major chords! But it does all of this, in a happily “Man Man” way. In a lot of ways, (lead singer) Honus Honus’ eclectic song writing makes him look like a faithful heir to The Great (and ANTI label-mate) Tom Waits. I’m sure this comparison’s been made before, but I don’t mean the obvious musical influence. I mean the “Waits-ian” musical ethos. Honus–in particular, but the rest of the band as well–show that they’re open to changing up their sound in dramatic ways. Honus Honus has been busy lately. In addition to Man Man, his hipster-super group–featuring Nick Diamonds from The Unicorns, Modest Mouse’s second-drummer and Michael Cera on bass–Mr. Heavenly is putting out a CD this August. The music on Life Fantastic seems like something you’d expect from a Mr. Heavenly-minded Honus. Mike Mogis–the “not famous” guy from Monsters of Folk–produced Life Fantastic; perhaps this too could explain the “expensive sounding” production on the album. Mogis lives in Omaha and is a friend to the Saddle Creek camp–Life Fantastic takes the clean, “classic-rock-studio-technicality,” Bright Eyes-y sound and Man Man interacts with it.
But like I said earlier, it’s still Man Man. It’s still the guys who put out the weirdo-freakout-classic Six Demon Bag. Let me give you some examples. “Piranhas Club” is a tongue-and-cheek 50’s doo-wop rock ‘n’ roll tune with the same macabre attitude as Beetlejuice or Tim Burton. Then there’s a song like “Shameless” that starts like a quite piano balad, but busts into a typical Man Man song complete with 8-bit synthesizers and sing along bridges. It can goes the other way too: “Eel Bros” is an instrumental in the vein of “Midtown [Instrumental]” from Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs; but here, Man Man adds some “pop-flavor” by playing with a silly lounge-music sound before climaxing to a theme fit for beating a video game. Its juxtapositions like these that keep Life Fantastic interesting. I found the album’s final song, “Oh La Brea” had the most surprising moment of the album: the song ends in a soft piano melody over a fully orchestrated instrumental (complete with “Really Pretty Violin” part!). The finale isn’t abrasive or crazy or “carnival-esque.” It was just a nice, melodic finish. Even though that would be mainstream for some, Man Man hasn’t tried stuff like this before–and it turns out, they’re pretty good at it. Sound experimentation doesn’t always need to be loud and noisy.

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