While discussing the track "Tunneling Through the Guy" from Man Man's latest album, Six Demon Bag, singer/pianist Honus Honus and I run into some snags. While I maintain that the song, which meanders into no fewer than five different genres in just over five minutes, sounds like a "Viking cruise ship," the mustachioed frontman disagrees.
"What? Hell no. It's not Viking cruise ship. It's more swamp boogie."
This lack of clear definition is, in fact, what defines Man Man. They're impossible to peg to any specific genre. Man Man is a little bit tribal thump, a little bit rock 'n roll; a little bit schizophrenic circus, a little bit beery weeper.
Backing Honus are Sergei Sogay (percussion, synths, bass, vibes), Alejandro "Cougar" Borg (marimba, trumpet, guitar), Chang Wang (saxophone, flute) and Pow Pow (drums and "bedroom eyes"). All sing backup vocals usually in an alarming falsetto, which starkly contrasts Honus' beyond-husky, gravelpit vocals.
Six Demon Bag follows their first album, 2004's The Man with the Blue Turban, down the same path into weird territory, reminiscent of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. But Six Demon Bag also finds Man Man honing their experimental instincts. Songs like "Feathers" and "Skin Tension" are slow, simple caf numbers, while "Push the Eagle's Stomach" and "Young Einstein on the Beach" are just ol' fashioned, jangly boned odd. The boys of Man Man sound like they just love having a good time with their instruments, whether coaxing beautiful melodies, or clanging the crap, out of them.
"The new record is a lot more focused, though we were focused on the first album," says Honus. "On the first record, we recorded stuff like spoons dropping. There's stuff like that on the second record, too, but we didn't let the extraneous stuff get in the way of the songs. Who knows, maybe the next will be nothing but extraneous stuff."
An entire record of nothing but spoon sounds wouldn't be too unexpected from the group, which seems to be intent on creating a sort of mythology. They're a motley bunch whose lyrics tend toward true love, pirates, werewolves and jungle rituals.
Honus maintains they're not trying to kick-start a cult, and that the band's image comes from a true place. "We're just trying to do it right. We don't want to be perceived as some sort of gimmicky, Squirrel Nut Zippers band," he says.
"[The lyrics] just come from some place abstract. Take "Engrish Bwudd,' for example," Honus says, referencing the Man Man fairytale-cum-romance-drama. "We're running with a fee-fi-fo-fum story, which is something everyone grew up with, but then wrapping it around the adult notion of implausible relationships."
Lucky for the listener, Man Man's live show spares no aural details. On tour, they manage to bring along the whole unwieldy grab bag of percussion, marimbas and toy instruments. It helps create a cacophony onstage that Honus says is essential to the band's sound.
"If anything that this band was put together to consciously achieve is to be a visceral entity, beyond dark imagery and bloodlust and whatever," he says. "We try to be as fiery as we can about it, but at the same time, try to have fun."
The Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut St., Denver
Saturday, June 10, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $8, 21-plus; check bigmarkstickets.com.