The Man In a Blue Turban With a Face
ne might say they had me at “Meow.” Every carnival has a ringmaster and plenty of barkers, bearded ladies, strong men, wild animals, and sad clowns, and Man Man, the dusky gem nestled in Ace Fu’s crown of thorns, is a haunted traveling circus. In a year cluttered with ponderous evidence that “weird” has settled somewhat uneasily into the chair formerly reserved for lo-fi at the head of the indie rock table, The Man In a Blue Turban With a Face stirs discomfiting emotions and conjures images befitting them, establishing a mood of mock horror from its outset. Unfairly wedded in an arranged marriage to the unholy triumvirate of Beefheart, Zappa, and Waits, Man Man imbue their music with Stroszek’s naïve ardor and, Philadelphia’s organist nonpareil, Larry Ferrari’s anachronistic sincerity.
Operating under assumed identities, Man Man combine various elements of visual and performance art: a miniature, ramshackle Cabaret Voltaire. Honus Honus belches words any lesser man might sing. While Tiberius hammers the percussion, Blanco plays a poor man’s Eric Dolphy, wielding his clarinet like der Bruno does his accordion. As the men behind the 10 lb. moustaches, Man Man muster their collective energies for the arch weird, combining Fear of Music Talking Heads with dystopian gamelan, which is why the album is so difficult to pigeonhole stylistically. Smoky New Orleans jazz finds a home between the punctured synth and the children’s chorus on songs like “Zebra” and “Gold Teeth,” the latter demonstrating their gravity. The songs that make up the second side are beautifully sequenced, the free noodling that follows Gold Teeth resets for the counter-punctual “The Fog or China” creating a sort of dissonance that carries the listener without telegraphing what comes next.
The unpredictable drama unfolds like a Zappa rock opera, fast and bulbous. Aggression, ambition, and ambivalence all come to bear on The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face. Man Man have staked their tent somewhere outside the rock mining camp, put away their guitars and re-imagined doo wop, jazz, and the penetrating potency of the outré gospel. Beneath their revival tent, there’s a promising indication that something wicked this way comes, and their devilish cabaret filled with slavering werewolves and anxiety-ridden circus freaks would reincarnate the skeletons of Cheng and Eng and invite them along to pantomime the action.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JANUARY 17 - JANUARY 23, 2004
Reviewed by: J T. Ramsay
Reviewed on: 2005-01-18