Monday, August 9, 2010

Man In Space debut EP review

Man in Space - EP
* * * *

I’m used to surprises, but when I heard that Dizzy Balloon members Jonny Flannes (guitar), Raphael Peterson (bass), and Louie Diller (drums) were starting a side-project, I wasn’t expecting anything that strayed too far from their main project’s theatrical pop-rock. The single “Home Sweet Home” did little to change this expectation. But after buying their EP and witnessing a set at Bottom of the Hill that made Mr. Bungle look tame, I found out in the most exhilarating way possible that these guys are a different story whatsoever.

It’s clear from the first track on Man In Space’s debut EP that they’re trying to screw with something. All the tracks are, at their roots, fairly conventional funk-influenced power-pop songs (some don’t even try to hide it). On top of it, they add bizarre sequences, particle-collider production spasms, and a bit of Dizzy Balloon’s Broadway-rock drama. The result is a rich soup of progressive lunacy that is never dull, sometimes disturbing, and always hilariously weird.

There are a number of potential flies in the band’s ointment. One is Flannes’ voice--his childlike falsetto almost always sounds goofy, whether it wants to or not. The other is the vestiges of Dizzy Balloon, whose bombastic power-rock often permeates the cosmic excursions on the album. But through a combination of funk swagger and their own weirdness, they surpass all of these and use them to propel their music even further into outer space.

The album starts with “Exposition,” the rare track that feels like an intro but could stand as a great pop song by itself. The tune is a mind-melting blur of squid-rubbery sequencers, menacing Krautrock organs, and drunk-punk-funk THX harmonies. It feels like the soundtrack to a scene in a movie where a drug dealer chases a Teletubby through zero gravity on a giant inflatable dolphin.

“Memoir” is the most unapologetically conventional song on the album. It’s trippy, of course--its sound-collage breakdown and weird lyrics about... I still have no idea..., but it’s essentially a power-pop song, and not a bad one either. “Poison” and “Home Sweet Home” are the singles, and they could not be more different from each other. “Poison” sounds like early Radiohead filtered through a layer of Sopwith Camel and served hot in a saucepan. “Home Sweet Home” is much more Dizzy Balloon-ish, and it works well as a single or an interlude. Its cheery melody is pleasantly kiddie, and I can imagine the band members singing this song to their grandkids forty years from now.

The album’s centerpiece is “Money.” A truly delicious slice of New Wave funk in the Talking Heads/Gang of Four tradition, I truly feel unfulfilled when I am not moving along to this song. I bought this album in the aftermath of a bizarre conflict with a friend of mine over Gorillaz tickets--we wanted to sit together, but the tickets had to be bought together and neither of us had the money for both or to pay each other back in the near future. As a result, I found myself associating well with “Money” and its lyrics about substantiality versus luxury. And let’s not forget the outrageously funky backbeat, with its pounding drums and layers of staccato guitars.

The last song is the six-minute opus “Light in our Eyes,” which starts out as a soaring Americana-folk ballad and somehow manages to segue into an epic outro with a shuffling blues beat, Thin Lizzy guitar harmonies, and cascading church organs. It’s the perfect climax to the album--the synth trips, the insane funkiness, and the gentle lunar-folk harmonies all meet and combine into one in the course of a six minutes that feel like a much shorter period of time. It’s an epic conclusion to an epic album, and despite its sharp contrast to “Money” (or any other song on that album), I can’t imagine the album ending any other way.

With their entirely self-produced, self-managed debut, Man in Space has succeeded in creating a sound with the free-form bizarreness of an indie band and the accessibility of a major-label pop band. Few bands since the Flaming Lips have come this close to creating the perfect balance between accessibility and impenetrability. What’s next for Man In Space is anybody’s guess, but any producers or major-label execs better stay the hell away from them.


  1. awesome, great review! very well written

  2. Love your metaphors and illusions. The music is pretty good too but the the review as pop lit is great. Good job!