Man Man comes of age in experimental pop world

For the CDTOctober 25, 2013 

Man Man will perform at the next Roustabout show at Chronic Town. The Philadelphia-based band recently released its fifth album, “On Oni Pond.”

PHOTO PROVIDED

  • if you go

    What: Man Man, Xenia Rubinos

    When: 8 p.m. Oct. 26

    Where: Chronic Town, 224 W. College Ave., State College

    Info: www.facebook.com/chronictown, 867-6191

What’s the name of this place we’re playing at? The Chronic?” asked Ryan Kattner, aka “Honus Honus,” lead singer of Philadelphia’s Man Man, during our interview.

“Chronic Town,” I replied. “It’s a coffee bar and hookah lounge, as well as a concert venue.”

“Awesome. Save us a hookah,” Kattner said.

I inquired if the group had a favorite flavor of shisha. Without missing a beat, Kattner instead requested Purple Nightmare, a potent strain of pot. Expect nothing less from Man Man, a group that revels in the odd and recalcitrant.

The indie rock world can get spurious at times, yet Man Man does things on its own terms and takes no prisoners. The band hops from genre to genre furiously, though its sound is rooted in a kind of jazzy, punk junkyard cabaret. Kattner’s vocal delivery is arresting and polarizing — sort of a gravelly howl — and his lyrics are frequently coarse, confrontational and heartbreakingly sincere.

Here’s where things get truly bizarre: The group recently released “On Oni Pond,” its fifth and easily its most poppy and accessible outing to date.

The new album treats listeners to Watusi-worthy dance punk (“Pink Wanton,” “Sparks,”) warped reggae (“King Shiv”) and ’70s-style piano rockers (“Born Tight”). The hooks are big and broad, while Kattner’s singing is easily more conventional and digestible here than on earlier releases.

Top it off with a recent tongue-in-cheek nod from CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “360” (the song “End Game” surmises that Cooper’s colleague Wolf Blitzer is an actual wolf), and you have a band poised to break out and blow up.

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“I can’t entertain those fantasies anymore,” Kattner said bittersweetly of the group’s potential for stardom. “I’ll get bummed out. We’ll see, though. As a group, we just have to keep challenging ourselves.”

Was the transition to a more pop-oriented focus a conscious decision?

“Yes and no,” Kattner replied. “We wanted to give the songs room to breathe. Once they started to take shape, we let them run their natural courses. I’m really proud of the record. It’s a cliché, a lot of musicians say that about their work, but I’m proud of it.”

In addition to material from “On Oni Pond,” show-goers can expect to hear favorites from earlier Man Man releases like “Six Demon Bag” and “Rabbit Habits.”

Opening the show is Brooklyn, N.Y., singer-songwriter Xenia Rubinos. Mixing punk, funk, pop and a fierce soprano voice, Rubino’s debut album, “Magic Trix,” has garnered favorable reviews.

“Xenia is a beast,” Kattner complimented. “We were looking for an opener who was fearless. She rules on her own merit.”

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