Clear People - Clarity (Manhand CD-R)
I picked up three CD-Rs recently from the Sunburned Hand of the Man troupe, but I think this was the only one released recently (at least, the sheet that comes tucked inside the cardboard envelope says 2006 whereas the others appear to be from last year). Clear People are Don Harney, John Maloney, Robert Thomas featuring Dave Bohill on one track. The photocopied insert features track titles and other such pertinent information with an inspiring shot of two Sunburned dudes in action, and there's also a mylar insert printed with an Octavio Paz passage. I won't even try to find the relationship between the quote and the music. I mean c'mon, it's only Sunburned Hand of the Man. Don't play that shit.
I'm not one to traditionally make such sweeping statements, but I must say that the opening 25 minutes of this hour-long affair (aka the first 5 tracks or so) are a total wash. Whenever you see somebody hating on Sunburned in a letter to the Wire or on an alternative music message board or something, they inevitably describe their music as sounding exactly like what you hear in these 25 minutes - tireless, vocal spatterings and "improvisations" like a 14-year old kid with Down's syndrome and a copy of "Pop Tatari" (on "The Blow Me Down Syndrome" and "Inner Circus"), humdrum keyboard/sound effect noodling (on "Clearance" and "Lingo"), repetitive and minimal percussion drummed out on various seemingly "found" objects (on "See-Thru Serenade" and most other cuts), and so on. It's basically like a bad Sunburned cover band, or maybe a parody. And maybe that's the kind of trip these dudes are on now. Again - I'm no analyst.
Anyway just because it's only the first half hour that stinks doesn't mean the group "finally find their feet and create the most epic, throat-throttling, mind-fermenting, penis-pumping sounds ever to grace man's ear". They just start making music that's a lot more pleasing to listen to. "Transparental Guidance" is a rather riveting quasi-jungle tune that inspires more ass shaking than head shaking, as is the title track although you've gotta put up with a lot of left-field gristle to get to the meat. "Limpid Grease" is a bit of a stretch at 11 minutes, and harks back to the album's opening in terms of incompetent "what happens if bang this against this" business, but eventually the group hit on a real funky beat which could just be a sample lifted off a computer for all I know. They've even got the sound effect that plays when I finish copying a DVD in there so you can't tell me this is all backwoods hippie improv with a straight face. "The Diamond Gland" is promising enough with a beguiling Konono No. 1 style waltz which could stay on for the rest of the album and find no qualms from me, but it takes off two minutes along into two more minutes of some looped sound effect of a girl crying. Also known as the most annoying sound ever invented. "Rambo, I'm Bleeding" is also sure to grate at 9 minutes, with a super lo-fi bongo rhythm and one of the four members delivering indeed a strangled plea to Stallone's creation. "Purity Supreme" revisits the beat found on "Limpid Grease" and couples it with the same bizarre vocals found on the previous track, and works rather well if you ask me. Album closer "Charity" marries duck calls, guttural throat improv and meowing into some kind of bizarre musique concrete stew. It somehow feels appropriate, as concluder. Go figure.
The Sunburned Hand of the Man crew and all who sail with them seem to take much delight in angering their would-be audience who know them as nothing more than the supposed flagbearers of the New Weird America scene, particularly by taking expectations and turning them on their heads...or by taking those expectations and moving so far out with them that they also manage to totally alienate anyone who actually does enjoy a large portion of what they do. The only logical explanation I have for "Clarity" is that it was recorded under the influence of a tremendous amount of intoxicants, and it was released because, well, why not? There are brief sparks of the kind of greatness Sunburned have been known to exude at times, but nothing worth investigating if you're not already a diehard. Although I will say that I did give the other two albums I picked up - "Live in Shit" and "Puppet Heaven" - a cursory listen and they sound a whole lot more enjoyable and more "traditional" than this disc (probably because they were actually done under the Sunburned moniker though)...sooo all's not lost, right?