Man Man’s ‘On Oni Pond’ close to pop mainstream

For the CDTOctober 25, 2013 

Artist: Man Man

CD: “On Oni Pond”

Label: ANTI Records

It makes perfect sense for Philadelphia-based weirdo rockers Man Man to be performing at Chronic Town on Oct. 26. The two entities share infinite idiosyncrasies and are a match made in hipster heaven. Touring in support of their acclaimed fifth studio album, last month’s “On Oni Pond,” Man Man brings an energetic and eclectic live show along with its surprisingly glossy and coherent pop sensibilities.

Truth be told, from the outside, Man Man looks like the sort of band that has the ability to be endlessly annoying: a strong reliance on eccentricities, a lead singer who answers to Honus Honus and a collective of musicians who play a list of increasingly more bizarre and attention-seeking instruments.

Really, all that’s missing is a record titled, “Look At How Different and Self-Consciously Strange We Are!” with the album art photographed exclusively by Terry Richardson.

Then again, these are all preconceived notions that existed before I heard a single note of a Man Man song, which made that old saying about books, their covers and judgment immediately applicable.

Once you get past the Williamsburg-influenced shenanigans that unfairly define them, you get a mighty fine rock band with a vice-like grip who knows exactly what they’re doing.

“On Oni Pond,” is the latest step in Man Man’s evolution towards indie-pop dominance. The opportunity for the band to successfully cross over to the Billboard charts, Top 40 radio and car commercials will never be higher than it is now and it seems to understand that (despite probably never wanting to admit it). This record is 13 tracks of strong song craftsmanship that pays tremendous dividends throughout its entire 45 minutes.

The album’s strongest track is “Loot My Body,” an easily danceable song with a catchy call-and-response chorus that is sure to be a staple at all of the band’s future live shows.

Honus Honus’ strong voice carries the equally sturdy backbeat, which provides an ideal complement to the assorted bells and whistles of electronic insanity before abruptly ending without any notice.

Another solid song is the almost reggae-ish “King Shiv.” The sweet and innocent, almost lethargic, music gives Honus Honus a great canvas for his laid-back approach to singing and again places a spotlight on his concrete-solid voice. “King Shiv” seems like it was made to be played exclusively at a place like Chronic Town, so again, it’s only fitting that Man Man is playing a show there this weekend.

“Fangs” is a haunting and contemplative song that really serves as Exhibit A on the band’s path to maturity. With a Latin drumbeat and an interestingly appropriate use of horns and samples, “Fangs” is an excellent song that I wish went on forever. The lyrics are fantastic and this song truly shows the band hitting its stride.

Obviously, first impressions are hard to break and the members of Man Man did themselves no favor upon introduction, but that superficial nonsense has rightfully been left behind. “On Oni Pond” is a statement album, announcing that Man Man isn’t some gimmick, 30-person group of hippies hey-ing and ho-ing their way around the festival scene. This is a legitimately good band, approaching greatness, and you would be a fool to miss its performance at Chronic Town.

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