Editors' pick

Man Man

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Editorial Review

MAN MAN
Album review: "Life Fantastic"

With its antic xylophone and jaunty horns, Man Man’s fourth album often sounds like circus music. But “Life Fantastic” is not one for the kids. Less Ringling Brothers than Cirque du Surreal, such songs as “Haute Tropique” and “Knuckle Down” are tales of killers and their victims, both metaphorical and actual.

Ironically, the album’s dark worldview is evident because of cleaner production. Known for chaotic live performances, Man Man used to carry that fervor into the studio. Produced by alt-rock mainstay Mike Mogis, whose regular clients include Cursive and Bright Eyes, “Life Fantastic” is the Philadelphia-rooted quintet’s most polished recording. You could almost call it accessible, if not for the skewed lyrics and throaty vocals of frontman Honus Honus (a.k.a. Ryan Kattner).

A string section supplements the band on several tracks; jazzy rhythms often supplant rock’s four-four beat; and the closing “Oh, La Brea” has an old-timey cabaret vibe. Yet Man Man is fundamentally a rock band, and not just because of electric-guitar solos like the one that sears the title track. It’s a matter of attitude. This is music for people who — as Honus exhorts in “Piranhas Club” — “gotta smash some plates to relax.”

— Mark Jenkins, June 3, 2011