“Every time she tries to find / the kind of love that won’t leave her behind / she ends up feeling like some sort of / shadow on the wall,” Man Man bandleader Honus Honus intones on “Fangs,” a late-album track from the Philly band’s latest release, On Oni Pond. The album, while the least noisy and frenetic of the band’s output, is not short on the dark character studies Honus has been writing since 2004’s The Man in a Blue Turban with Face.
That wild-eyed energy of Man Man’s earlier releases was a lot of fun, but it was also divisive, the kind of din that could prompt more conservative listeners to shut the band out completely. Here, as has been the trend with recent releases like 2011’s Life Fantastic, that wild ethos is preserved in the lyrics but presented in a more tuneful form. Find it in the cartoonish organ blasts and lyrics—“Waterboard me with ‘Call Me Maybe’ / looping on an endless repeat”—of “Pink Wonton.” Honus still serves up his songs with howl-at-the-moon intensity, but instead of inspiring you to do the same, they may make you want to dance (the percussion-driven “Pyramids”) or awkwardly court someone (funky/goofy album centerpiece “Loot My Body”). Perhaps it was the influence of drummer Pow Pow, who Man Man’s press says played a prominent role in the songwriting process. Or maybe, with some of the skronk stripped away, this was what Man Man sounded like all along. Regardless of the reason, Man Man have crafted an album here that, without betraying their old fans, makes their music accessible to a wider audience. And that can’t be a bad thing.