Man Man are once again crazy crazy on their third full-length, Rabbit Habits.The self-proclaimed ‘Viking-vaudeville’ or ‘Manic Gypsy Jazz’ act broke through last year with their opening spot on Modest Mouse’s tour, and being played in the background during Nike’s ads for the U.S. Women’s Soccer team (the ones featuring Rainn Wilson of The Office). Now they follow that up with Rabbit Habits, their first on Anti- Records. While not much different than 2006’s Six Demon Bag, there’s not much else that sounds like Man Man, either.
Rabbit opens strong with the excited “Mister Jung Stuffed”, a vaudeville explosion. There’s a frantic energy through much of the record, and that’s generally where Man Man are best. Tops is probably “The Ballad of Butter Beans”, which presses like a cartoon chase scene – you can almost see Wiley E. Coyote strapping on some Acme® brand jet roller-skates and trying to catch Roadrunner in the deserts of the southwest. Nearer the end, the grand, crazy “Top Drawer” is maybe the best representation of the band’s style – ‘Satan’s Music’ with a dance rhythm, everything thrown into the mix.
While singer Honus Honus’ (Ryan Kattner) Rhodes piano and drummer Pow Pow’s (Christopher Powell) percussion dominate Man Man, there’s a whole lot else in there, from clavinet to xylophone, including melodica, euphonium, and sousaphone. Sometimes, this all gets together into an almost-anthem, such as with “Hurly / Burly” and “Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos”. Other times its slower and more plodding, like on “Big Trouble”. Then there are the times they turn the distortion up, as on back-to-back shout-along “Harpoon Fever (Queequeg’s Playhouse)” and techno-collapse dance-beat “El Azteca”.
But there’s also a sad side to Man Man, which comes out in two different ways on Rabbit. Honus strips down to burlesque piano woes on “Doo Right” and the title track. But stronger are the final two pieces on the record, the saloon-twang “Poor Jackie” and world-weary dance hall-sad “Whalebones”. Both carry well, despite being over seven minutes in length each, and with the preceding “Top Drawer”, form a fine trifecta to finish things out.
There is something missing with any Man Man album, and that is the live element. All bunched up at the front of the stage, wearing Native American war paint, they deliver at a level that can’t be matched on record. Like a sea shanty, it’s always better when sung at sea. But that doesn’t keep landlubbers from singing ‘em…