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Touch And Go


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Good evening, earthlings. The dreaded Planet Sandlin here again. You may be interested to know that Man or Astroman and I have something in common. You see, I, too, am from outer space. In fact, as you'll learn from my revealing Pitchfork bio, I'm the result of my own Big Bang theory-- or in my case, the controversial Barely- Audible Poof theory. I'm my own planet, kids. Cool. Unfortunately, my dense atmosphere naturally yields noxious, gassy one- sided opinions and petty prejudices. My world is without gravity, fraught with weightless ideas floating freely around themselves-- never achieving a coherent, utilitarian message. A thick force field surrounds my outer crust, thus impairing my ability to absorb the simple absolute truths much of our universe staunchly abides by. Thus, I'm unable to nourish my dry, cracked mindscape. In short, Planet Sandlin is a horrendous blight in a galaxy otherwise filled with bright stars and shining celestial bodies. But I'll be silent now and forever, in order to eternally contemplate my intrinsic ugliness. Booming God- Like Voice- Over: While Planet Sandlin skulks around his pitiful axis, we luckily have his only earthly friend, renowned author Stephen Hawking's butler, to type a few hundred words about Man or Astroman. Mr. Butler, please proceed. Planet Sandlin? What an arsehole! I don't even know him that well. I signed my boss's book for 'im once, I think. Nevertheless, I'd just like to say that, along with Gary Numan and Peter Schilling, Man or Astroman have been one of my guilty musical pleasures for quite a long while. And let me just tell you, it's really tough to take the piss out of a band I've enjoyed for so long. I mean, these poor Astro- chaps are from prime alien abduction country, Alabama. Shouldn't they be allowed to have their fun? Oh, alright. They're not from Alabama, they're from space. Indeed, these humanoids from beyond initially landed on our fair planet years ago, sometime in the early '90s. Soon, they abducted the styles and sounds of Dick Dale, the Ventures, and Les Baxter, just to name a few. The recordings of these uncharacteristically innovative musical humans were the subjects of intense study and observation. The Man or Astroman stage act quickly became a complex aliens- posing- as- humans- posing- as- aliens vaudeville schtick borrowed heavily from other over- caffinated physics- club outcasts- posing- as- droids like Devo. Our otherworldly heroes set out to prove, as guitar prophet Joe Satriani so astutely speculated years before, that aliens really do have a deep affinity for surfing and the galvanizing music inspired by that particular recreational sport. It's one of the mysteries of the universe, much like the Black Hole. Why do aliens enjoy surf music so much? In fact, it's the subject of my latest book, "Stephen Hawking's Butler's Guide to the Universe." But enough about that. Man or Astroman show that aliens can be very musical, playful, and even have a sense of humor. They've successfully debunked the myth about aliens that Hollywood movies help to perpetuate: that space creatures can only be cruel abductors or hostile acid- spitting enormities. The Man or Astroman sense of humor borrows many camp, lowbrow ideas from American cable TV. In the case of Man or Astroman's latest effort, EEVIAC (subtitled Operational Index and Reference Guide, Including Other Non- Computational Devices), its failing isn't exactly akin to a botched chemistry experiment blowing up in one's face. Actually, the failing here resides in the band's inability to consistently conduct potentially- dangerous experiments with their music; or re- program themselves in any significant, visionary sense. Their driving percussive attack is still present, and rivals that of another futuristic favorite band of mine, Trans Am. And of course, the simple pleasures of frenetic wipeout surf guitar are always extant to some degree, and to say the least, impeccably executed. Contrary to the hi-tech blueprints gracing the album's sleeve, there is little innovative studio quackery to be found on EEVIAC. In fact, the album is much more humanized than most of the pre- programmed floppy disk claptrap that passes for music in today's society-- much of it sounding like it was conceived on some small child's Commodore 64, and then marketed by major labels as "advanced" or "futuristic" music. EEVIAC's packaging suggests an advanced technological angle that's just not really there. With "Interstellar Hardrive," EEVIAC begins predictably enough, with those familiar tsunami waves of reverb- doused surf guitar. Occasionally, our favorite martians underpin the songs with Moog burps, or maybe preface a song with sampled voice- overs that always have something appropriately scientific or nerdy to say. The album does get a tad brittle and industrial with "D:Contamination," which could pass for a legitimate fusion of trip-hop and surf. I'm also quite overwhelmed by those overbearing William Shatner- esque titles like "Within the Mainframe, Impaired Vision From Inoperable Cataracts Can Become a New Impending Nepotism," especially since the title just happens to be more interesting than the cacophonous space- junk characterizing the song itself. On "Fractionized Reception of a Scrambled Transmission," our extra- terrestrial friends show us they've finally happened upon the much- in- demand vocoder device (much like every other forward-thinking band in the solar system). As the great vocoder avatars Styx would say, I want to thank you, Mr. Roboto, thank you. Sometimes, though, on many a Man or Astroman album, our heroes just seem to put themselves on auto- pilot and coast along on a single wavelength-- mechanically churning out one similar- sounding surf instrumental after the other. And EEVIAC is no exception. On the closing track, "Myopia," they actually do attempt to deviate from familiar ground. And they do so with a mistake that could be heard as ungainly Mercury Rev referencing, or possibly, a plodding Galaxie 500- influenced instrumental that's about ten minutes too long. A monotonous, unmoving, unlistenable space jam, it rightly is, kids. The standout tracks here are the mercifully short "U-235/ PU-239," and "As Estrlelas Agora Elas Estao Mortas." The latter cut proves that, not only are these spacemen multi- lingual, but they can also successfully transcend the narrow sonic trappings of the conventional surf instrumental when they actually try. Sure, Man or Astroman's music still has its undeniable appeal. But would respectable paranormal beings allow themselves to continue on a redundant and obvious path? Will their fate be marked by nothing more than common, earthly mediocrity? Can they reinvent themselves without sacrificing the adrenaline rush of great surf guitar instrumentals? For the answer to these and other universal questions, we can only look to the future.

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