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Sunburned Hand Of The Man - Fire Escape

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 8 / 10 / 2007

Sunburned Hand Of The Man - Fire Escape
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Format: CD


Accessible latest album from freeform psychedelic collective Sunburned Hand of the Man, which in their large catalogue proves to be their most coherent and concise in a while

Judging from the discography section of their website, the Sunburned Hand of the Man are a rather prolific bunch. I counted some 40 plus albums (including one entitled ‘Live In Shit’), though admittedly this did include proto-Sunburned outfit the Shit-Spangled Banner, who have released charming CD-R’s with titles like ‘Inflated With Self-Hatred’ and ‘...Wash America With Come’. A collective in every sense of the word that deal in primal freakouts and brain-zapping live shows, Sunburned (as they are often known) can swell to 20 plus people in various locations while streamlining down to around eight for tours. The remain an amorphous outfit who, in a similar manner to Japanese speed-freaks Acid Mothers Temple, disregard notions of quality control and instead release mind-boggling large discographies, often on limited release CD-Rs. Sometimes, as on ‘Jaybird’ and ‘Hoof Trip’, they’ve hit the spot, fusing mind-bendingly brilliant trance-rock funk with free-folk, mystic jazz, and all other kinds of musical tangents. While frontman John Moloney’s voice on these recordings are fed through an echo unit, making his stream-of-conscious rambling delivery sound like something beamed from another planet (oddly reminiscent of MC’s on reggae records), the band unleash brilliant stoned free-rock workouts imbibed with energy and freedom. Ecstatic Peace indeed – the name of the label run by Thurston Moore that’s put out many a Sunburned release (though not this one, which is on Smalltown Supersound from Norway), and a good description of Sunburned’s sound. Unfortunately at other times, such as on ‘Piff’s Clicks’ and ‘The Book of Pressure’, they can also be stoned, self-indulgent rubbish, with atonal plunking keyboard noises and tedious chanting spread over whole impenetrable albums that would test even the most hardy left-field music lover. There are parts of the band’s mammoth back catalogue in which the various band members sound as if they’ve only met five minutes before recording, with one member continually plunking random farty noises on his keyboard set to a backdrop of more chanting and badly done guitar solos. ‘Fire Escape’, thankfully, is one of Sunburned’s better efforts. It’s fair to say that the ‘loose’ – to put it mildly – nature of the Sunburned Hand of the Man’s music will never endear them to the top 40 charts, but ‘Fire Escape’ is likely to be the band’s most coherent and concise album for a while (relatively speaking, of course – The Killers and other stadium rocking bands won’t have anything to fear). The presence of Four Tet’s Keiran Hebden in the producer's chair, as well as a hands-on musician, has meant that the album reaches out it’s tentacles in new directions, helped along the way by the addition of Vibracathedral Orchestra members Bridget Hayden and Michael Flower. It begins with the sound of a CD skipping, even though the CD clearly isn’t, before morphing into Can with ‘Nice Butterfly Mask’, all hypnotic, metronomic drums, driving bass and wailing guitar, the band locking into a unwavering groove. What happens next is entirely unexpected: the mood is subtly shifted with ‘What Colour Is The Sky In The World You Live In’, a stunning, blissed-out kaleidoscopic track reminiscent of ‘Laughing Stock’-era Talk Talk, full of trumpets, piano, flutes, and a threading bassline running through it. It’s an unexpected, beatific place for the Sunburned Hand of the Man to inhabit, but the surprise continues further with the percussive attack of ‘The Parakeet Beat’, in which polyrhythmic drums fly off each other, the whole thing mixed by Hebden with drum machines mixing in with organic instruments. The track sounds more like heavily rhythmic post-punk British acts such as This Heat and 23 Skidoo, as well as New York’s ethno-tribal psychedelic warriors Gang Gang Dance. It also serves to segue well into the title track, in which they return to the influence of Can, stretching a hypnotic guitar motif over a long track while various strange vocal phrases and bells drift in the background. Eventually the presence of some great drumming gets the track going, with added drum patterns from Hebden uniting the song conceptually with the previous track. Of course, this being Sunburned, there’s the mandatory stoned epic, which in this case is ‘The Wind Has Cars’ – a mammoth long track that begins with various wind chimes, Tibetan bells and flutes (in a similar manner to like-minded collective Jackie O-Motherfucker), and a lulling acoustic guitar, before Moloney’s rasping voice wails away an inaudible, growling tale, the music slowly becoming more and more strange and unlistenable, until we are left with someone attempting a bad heavy metal guitar solo. 'Raw Backwards', meanwhile, finishes off the album nicely with a fantastic drum groove. It’s indicative that while the Sunburned Hand of the Man's brand of weirdness is never quite going to cross over into the mainstream, they can, however, still provide accessible and downright groovy records when they feel like it.

Track Listing:-
1 Words To Live By
2 Nice Butterfly Mask
3 What Color Is The Sky In The World You Live In?
4 The Parakeet Beat
5 Captain Knowhere
6 Fire Escape
7 The Wind Has Ears
8 Triple, Double, Everything
9 Raw Backwards

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