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Judy G.

CD of The Week

Week of 6/10/24

    Man Man - Carrot On Strings (Sub Pop)

    In the past, Man Man used brutally honest metaphoric and dark imagery to paint pictures of the reality that singer Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus) was living. His complex but vibrant scenes could be molded in the listener’s mind and made their own. But it seems Philadelphia has truly lost its crazed Klezmer carnival barker to the land of golden sunsets and endless unread scripts. Kattner’s move to Los Angeles (just over 10 years now) seems to have streamlined his musical ideas and shrunk his lyricism to only render L.A.-specific imagery. Gone is the grittiness and unhinged poetics like “When you cut your punch on a broken window and your blood froze like frost on the shattered pane” from “I, Manface” and here seemingly to stay is “Two tech bros on the lawn / They're talking about their elongated Lambos” from the dreamy sedated “Cryptoad” from the brand-new album Carrot on Strings.

    But that might be a microscopic critique of a man who is evolving. In a press release, he said, “I think I spent the first 15 years of playing music, wanting to quit every day. And now…it just feels like a gift.”  Kattner has new eyes to see life differently now: he’s in the thralls of fatherhood for a second time (with partner Constance Wu of Crazy Rich Asians and Fresh Off the Boat fame) while having recently scored and co-starred in the horror-comedy Destroy All Neighbors (contributing a new Man Man song called “Free”). He is also overseeing the music accompaniment to AMC’s Interview with Vampire series, and working on screenplays, which was his original passion when he attended the recently closed University of the Arts here in Philly. In that vein, “Blooodungeon” is a cinematic single; a repetitive hooked sketch that sounds fitting for an eerie horror sequence. When it comes down to life, Kattner needs to stay busy to feel like he might be succeeding. So, Man Man, too, goes on.

    At the start of writing Carrot on Strings, he felt that success, or at least success as he views it, was always just out of reach – thus the album’s namesake. The single “Tastes Like Metal” is a lighter, less catchy version of “Head On (Hold on to Your Heart)” and takes that frustrated feeling to heart, singing “One door closes, another one opens / the kind of line that makes you want to vomit.” But with recent wins and his evolutionary journey, the album paints Kattner as more confident than someone who’s always having the football pulled out in front of them. His vocals are smooth and relaxed, somewhat crooning on the sleepy Hawaiian lullaby “Mulholland Drive” and the twinkling piano love ballad of “Mongolian Spot:” a vulnerable side not seen often. Also new to the Man Man catalogue is the flat-out western slow dance of “Cherry Cowboy,” which shows up out of the blue like Ween’s country album in 1996. Speaking of Ween, the funky, playful (but painfully repetitious) “Pack Your Bags” sounds like a Ween-style tribute that doubles as a raucous crowd participation jam.

    But even more than confidence, the album is purposeful in its lightness. Kattner explained, “I didn’t want to make an overtly heavy record. The world already has too much heaviness...We don’t need to have another album that points that out with every breath.” There are really two gasps that hint at the heavier, zanier Man Man of old, and they happened to both be the singles. The opening track “Iguana,” nearly matches the frantic energy of “Hurly Burly” from way back on 2008’s Rabbit Habits. And “Alibi” kicks off with a fun piano/guitar section offering a potential classic before delving into the safety net of a seedy Foreigner pub rock sound.

    Kattner and Man Man continue to reinvent themselves along a thin framework that happens to weave in and out of the same person and voice, no matter how he’s feeling about himself and life. It sounds like it’s a very good thing he continues to bring the band along with him. “I first got into music to escape from myself,” he says, “and now, it sounds so corny, but I have zero doubt that music ended up saving my life.” Hopefully, music will keep him vibrant and thriving, and that whatever reason they had to cancel their U.S. tour is nothing serious and only due to a formality until it can be rebooked soon.

    **Donate $15 or more to Y-Not Radio to receive a download of Carrot On Strings. Click here for details.
    Review by Shepard Ritzen

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