The artwork on Man Man’s third album Rabbit Habits depicts a complicated and depraved scenario, shown through a cross section of a burning house. Inside that house, there are numerous scenes of bizarre, disturbing and sometimes whimsical events, including a suicide victim, an orgy, a wookie at a typewriter, an Indian chief playing video games, a man in a banana suit, a man in a cage, and at the ground floor, the pyromaniac who has sealed the fate of these unsuspecting fools. In a way, it’s an apt parallel to Man Man’s music. Their oddball, whiskey drunk experimental pop style is the soundtrack to seedy and frightening affairs, choreographing a fistfight at a brothel or a drinking game at an exorcism. It seems dangerous, certainly, but there’s a thrill in that element of danger, even a challenge to it, perhaps.
With Rabbit Habits, Man Man still sound as if they exist in a seamy and smoky world, but a bit more accessible this time around. Less bordello, more burlesque. Fewer exorcisms, more séances. Nothing’s going to explode or combust, but there’s still something unsettling lingering in the atmosphere. This is a more comfortable Man Man, if only marginally, but their songs are as strong as ever, if more user-friendly.
“Been locked down way too long/ been locked down way too long,” grumbles frontman Honus Honus on leadoff track “Mister Jung Stuffed,” like an ex-con about to have a night on the town. As such, it’s an extremely fun song, with a catchy melody, though Honus still finds himself wailing maniacally in parts, reminding us that the band hasn’t exactly settled down. “Hurly/Burly” is even more straightforward, though a bizarre whistle that bleats throughout scuffs it up enough to keep it from being normal. “Big Trouble” marks a new peak for Man Man, with a mighty horn section lending an air of Bourbon Street jazz to their bloozy swagger. “Doo Right” even sounds like a ’50s-style ballad, with Honus lamenting “I wanna hold you til the mountains turn into sand/ oh my god, what happened to all those days?”
After a raucous drum intro, “Easy Eats or Dirty Doctor Galapagos” boogies with a muppet monster vibe and a great guitar and clarinet riff. Then, oddly, “El Azteca” sounds quite a bit like Six Finger Satellite’s “(Babies Got The) Rabies.” (Note to self: I’m probably the only one who would have noticed that) On “Top Drawer,” one of the catchiest tracks here, Honus declares “you need a haircut/ you need a shoe shine,” and clearly the band has gotten a bit of a trim since Six Demon Bag, though just enough to keep their beards in check. Man Man is still one gruff and raucous act. Still, they have their delicate side, such as on the lengthy “Poor Jackie,” a spooky but awesome gypsy waltz, with weeping violin and Honus darkly addressing the song’s subject: “I don’t see what everybody/ sees in your sexy body/ All I see is a shallow grave/ trapped inside a pretty face.”
By the end of the album, that element of drama and danger that may not have been as immediately prevalent overtakes the atmosphere. Still, by and large, Rabbit Habits is a fun record. Like a round of stiff drinks, however, it will likely leave you in a more uncertain place and scenario than that where you began. As the group chants at the end of “Poor Jackie,” “there’s no God here,” but once you acknowledge the absence of anything holy, it’s easier to dive into such wanton terrain.
MP3: “Top Drawer”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.