Graphics by Kevin Shin
88.9 is proud to present a new series on our WERS Music Blog, called Who to Watch. Similar to our Artist Profiles, this series introduces readers and listeners to the artists you can hear on All New from 8 pm - 9 pm on 88.9, our show dedicated to bringing you the freshest tunes every night of the week. From All New and beyond, these are the artists we think are important to have on your radar.
This first edition of Who to Watch is all about Man Man, an experimental rock group we've been loving on All New:
By Simru Sonmez-Erbil, WERS Staff Writer
Artist: Man Man
Based in: Los Angeles (Origin: Philadelphia)
For Fans of: Danielson, Wolf Parade, 10cc
Man Man has been pushing musical boundaries since 2003. Ryan Kattner, otherwise known as Honus Honus, brought the experimental rock group to life; he's since remained the only constant member and songwriting mastermind. Armed with a Rhodes or Nord Electro keyboard, he hatched the band with a wide variety of influences ranging from Eastern European folk to Captain Beefheart. Man Man was Kattner's first band, but far from his first musical experience. Three-year-old Kattner would often run up to his grandfather's piano and bang his head on the keys... and later take lessons. After years of dabbling in various instruments, he committed to piano after college, and so began Man Man.
Similarly, Man Man hasn't been Kattner's only musical endeavor. He released a solo record, Use Your Delusion, under Honus Honus. He was also a member of indie supergroup Mister Heavenly alongside Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse and Nicholas Thorburn of The Unicorns. Though Kattner's atypical mix of influences distinguish his projects as "experimental," he still considers Man Man's music accessible, saying he writes "pop songs, albeit slightly skewed ones."
Before sitting down to write Man Man's first new material in seven years, Kattner says he felt like he "woke up in the desert," fighting to make it out with an impressive batch of songs. He often describes his writing process as nothing short of agonizing (and while doing so uses phrases that could come straight from a quirky Man Man lyric, like describing an idea "dropping in out of the ether"). This process, however, never fails to deliver a sonic journey like no other.
Man Man has a way of making eccentricity catchy, and they've done it better than ever on their latest LP. Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between is the best retreat you can get in 51 minutes, like a chemical face peel treatment for your ears: intriguing, refreshing, and simply other-worldly.
Dream Hunting is Man Man's first album in seven years, written over the past four years by Ryan Kattner.
The last we'd heard from Man Man before this was 2013's On Oni Pond, an album that had the experimental outfit's stamp all over it, but with a certain mainstream sensibility. Dream Hunting throws that sensibility out the window without sacrificing the enjoyableness of the album; it's somehow simultaneously cohesive and diverse.
An album so well-executed is no accident; it took three and half years and lots of contemplation for frontman Kattner to craft this 17-track journey. He did so while staying at a friend's guest house in L.A., which, according to him, included only "an old upright piano, a thrift store lamp, and nothing else." Kattner had been working on solo material in the years after On Oni Pond, but finally decided it was time to get back to Man Man material. He recorded the album with a completely new lineup of the band; a lineup that allowed for a reinvented sound with roots still in Man Man's early days.
Part of what makes Dream Hunting so refreshing is its unconventional instrumentation.
A crew of like-mindedly quirky musicians back Kattner with a wide array of instruments, including a comprehensive brass section, numerous types of electric pianos, and lots - and I mean LOTS - of marimba.
When I first heard "Cloud Nein" on WERS, Host Phil Jones remarked that, in a world where a lot of pop/rock is guitar-heavy, it was nice to hear a song that featured piano front and center. I am 100% in agreement. You will often find me on the weekends marching around, brandishing signs that say "Pop Needs More Piano," but with the release of this album I might be able to give my sign-wielding duties a rest. From that rhythmic shuffle on "Cloud Nein," to the punchy riffs on "Lonely Beuys" and "Hunters," then the gentler feel on "Swan" and "If Only," a piano-centric album is a beautiful thing. If only more songwriters wrote while holed up in their friends' guest houses with only an upright piano to keep them company...
The album is jam-packed with timeless, flowing melodies set to far-out sounds: a compelling combination.
The beauty of these tunes is that they fuse infallible musical stylings with an art-rock angle to create something that sounds completely new, yet instantly likable.
You could call Dream Hunting an assortment of songs, but a more fitting epithet would be a collection of musical moments. Man Man doesn't succumb to the pressure to stay genre-consistent; they'll even switch up genre mid-song. "Powder My Wig" will rocket you through musical eras in that way. A surf-rock-feel blends into a nearly polka-style cadence, making way for a glorious seven-second Broadway big band refrain, then finishing off with full-on baroque ambience. "Goat" features a marching drum beat as the backdrop to a tipsy, Middle Eastern-inspired horn line. Then, we've got "The Prettiest Song In The World," which begins with a disarmingly catchy melody, soon backed by that surf beat, and finally transitioning into proggy, grandiose swells.
It's easy to be swept away by the intriguing instrumentation on the album, but you should give equal attention to the set of similarly eccentric lyrics.
Dream Hunting has the kind of lyrics you don't really need to understand to like. I mean, "moving like a two-by-four" ("Future Peg") is the kind of line I accept without question. They're also the kind of lyrics whose meanings are hard to guess. Lucky for us, Kattner has revealed some of his inspirations before. It's no surprise that he has as wide a range of lyrical inspirations as musical ones. Some of the lyrical content comes from Kattner's own outlook on life; "Future Peg" deals with the concept of winding up "another peg on the wall."
This outlook, however, is disguised in artful metaphors and images. Other songs are inspired by happenings in the lives of Kattner's friends, or happenings he's simply heard about; these all come together in songs like "Goat" and "Inner Iggy." The rest comes from delightfully obscure film, art, or even psychology references.
A major theme on this album is lightening darker themes with upbeat, whimsical tunes. Kattner also seizes control of the oft-forgotten art of wordplay on Dream Hunting. We're treated to homophones like the title "Cloud Nein," cleverly about "living in denial."
Then, there's this line from "Hunters:" "Maybe I waited far too long / Maybe I waded far too deep." Here it is again in "Animal Attraction:" "You baited your cage with bated breath."
We all need a break from the typical from time to time; exposure to new sounds and sentiments is what keeps life stimulating. Dream Hunting will get you hooked on the atypical. Get ready for an immersive experience that will have you bopping along while eagerly soaking up every note, word, and sequence.