Man Man: Carrot On Strings [Album Review]

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Man Man
Carrot On Strings
Sub Pop Records [2024]

Album Overview: Man Man has been a band for over 20 years, and I can happily say that when I’m listening to their work, I’m never bored. Ever since I heard the cacophonous chaos of “Hurly / Burly” and “Top Drawer” off 2008’s Rabbit Habits, I was instantly hooked. Music, especially in the early aughts, wasn’t being made like this, and it made for extra standout potential. Man Man has returned with their 7th LP, the follow-up to 2020’s Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between, Carrot On Strings. Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between was a tough album to write due to the time of its conception. Man Man’s frontman Honus Honus (a.k.a. Ryan Kattner) described the journey as an “oscillation between hope and cynicism.” To paraphrase, there was a sort of unexpected boredom that could be hard to shake, even after a creative reinvention that saw Kattner develop an animated series, write film scripts, a graphic novel, a neo-noir TV pilot, etc. Carrot On Strings doesn’t try to distance itself from Dream Hunting in the Valley of the In-Between but pushes forward into some of Man Man’s most fun songwriting to date, even if it seems to run out of steam a bit near the end.

Musical Style: Man Man has always given 100% effort. What was wacky, intriguing, and unhinged at the beginning of Man Man’s run has been refined. This album has fun and is more loose in its process. The album zips around through disco-inspired keys to sexy krautrock, proggy-driven passages to beautiful blossoms of keys, sing-song sing-along choruses to indie-pop art rock prowess.

Evolution of Sound: Man Man has always had a very experimental edge that veered towards Zappa and Beefheart. Jokingly, it almost sounded like the chaos that could follow a car accident between two different one-man bands. Carrot On Strings has a more refined weirdness in its nature. Not that Kattner wasn’t writing for himself, but when the album isn’t getting repetitive or running out of steam, these tracks show beauty and chaos in equal measure.

Artists with Similar Fire: Man Man operates in territories adjacent to artists such as Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and even Tom Waits. This album also carries some of the off-beat grandeur that makes Islands’ albums so interesting.

Pivotal Tracks: What I really like about Carrot On Strings is how quickly it gets the party started with two fantastic tracks, one right after the other. “Iguana” takes its melting desert keys and injects a danceable bounce. “Cryptoad” is Man Man wordplay at its best. Honus jabs at tech bros with what sounds like Elon-gated Lambos; the lyrics, “cokeheads of symmetry are doing lines of poetry,” make an appearance, and the catchiest chorus on the album goes, “Take me home, Please take me home, This party sucks.” “Blooodungeon” comes out of nowhere and hits like leather-stretched goth aerobics. You’ll never know how fun it is to spell “Blooodungeon” until you listen. The shredding guitar is also a very nice touch. “Mulholland Drive” shows the album can be as beautiful as it is weird. Taking the pace of an introspective night walk, this sleepy ballad is a nice slow down. The repetitive mosey of “Cherry Cowboy” nods to Zep’s “Down by the Seaside,” and the final track, “Odyssey,” has a driving length that finishes out the album.

Lyrical Strength: Man Man has always tried to tell a unique story with their albums, and Carrot On Strings is no different. First of all, the album title is exactly as it sounds, with your wants always dangling right out in front of you. The album is really an overall statement of how one man must make art no matter what the cost. The album and lyrics aren’t overthought. This is just a man and a band excited to be able to have the opportunity to make music, no matter the outcome.

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Christopher Tahy

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