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Man Or Astroman?
A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale
Touch & Go Records


Anyone who has heard Man Or Astroman? or owns any of their records shouldn't have any misconceptions of what they do. They play surf rock; experimental surf rock. MOA has long been an obscure band, that I feel, has pushed the envelope of "the edge" (whatever that actually is) so far that their ability to communicate through their music has become hampered by the sheer number of people in this world who just won't "get" them. Let me elaborate: MOA, specifically on this album, is the ultimate in hardcore, technogeek, surf rock. It is the most ut. To understand them, in the words of Valentine Michael Smith, is to grok. All your base are, belong to them. If you don't understand any or all of what I just wrote, you are hopelessly incapable of connecting with MOA on any level. I work at an air force base on a satellite program that still uses an IBM 360 mainframe (out of date more than 10 years ago). Contained in our computer room are the manuals for this archaic beast that takes up more square footage than most three-bedroom apartments. In these manuals are pictures of your typical computer engineer from the 70s or 80s. White, short sleeve shirts, black ties, black horn-rimmed glasses, the works. These, are the only people that could ever truly appreciate a song title like "Multi-Variational Stimuli Of Sub-Turgid Foci Covering Cross Evaluative Techniques For Cognitive Analysis Of Hypersignificant Graph Peaks Following Those Intersubjective Modules Having Biodegradable Seepage." But how many of these people have you seen lately? I'm pretty sure that there are some holed away somewhere out where I work, but how many of these true technogeeks are likely to listen to surf rock?

Now surf, is decidedly not mainstream, and MOA is a band that from its very beginning defined surf's outer limits (Their name seems to be derived from the cheesy sci-fi movie Astrozombies by Ted V. Mikels, a movie that most of the world has never heard of). They've had some pretty strange albums and songs before, but there's something about A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale that says to me that these guys have gone to where no one has gone before, and I'm not sure if they'll ever be back. To demonstrate: there is a "song" and I use that term lightly, on this record that is nothing more than the rhythmic bleating of a dot matrix printer. It's a clever idea, and interesting to listen to once or twice, but I can't ever imagine hearing it on any radio station. Ever. It's also just plain weird, but who cares? This ain't Britney Spears and music should be made from whatever instrument strikes the artist's fancy. Within the liner notes is a section about the band, which is made to look as though the entire album were produced by nothing more than machines. This furthers my feeling of unease as it appears to be a deliberate disconnect between band and listener. Also disquieting are the album graphics of various spectrographic (Once again, if you don't know what a spectrograph is, don't worry, you're not alone. Most of the people you've ever met don't know what one is either) plots that somewhat resemble the psychedelic scene in 2001 where Dave Bowman enters the monolith. MOA often tests the limits of my knowledge, which seems, eerily enough, to be tailored directly to their music. That is not a good sign, since most of the people I know, don't understand even 1% of the music I listen to, the movies I watch, the books I read or even ME in general. Dabbling in the nebulous serves to move a band's music further from the realm of entertainment and into the world of art, which is always a dubious gamble, but musicians of the next century are far more likely to be influenced by bands that pushed the envelope than those that merely satisfied the immediate urges of the status quo. This should be readily apparent to anyone who has seen one of their concerts; I won't ever forget the time when one of their guitarists put the shell of an old TV (doused in lighter fluid) on his head, lit it and ran around on stage for several seconds before dumping it off stage. I'm sure the City and Fire Department of Boulder were nonplussed; they don't even let you smoke there.

What I'm getting at is what happens when an 'obscure band' becomes utterly foreign to its most ardent proponents? I'm all for pushing the limits of musical experimentation and even testing the limits of what can be done with a particular genre of music. But, I have seen so many bands that try to be the most ut, instead of the utmost. Trying to appeal to the most hardcore fans of a genre is not a fast track to fortune or to artistic merit. Look at the dozens of death metal bands you've never heard of; they all tried to be more hardcore than Metallica by jamming more notes, more riffs, more demonic vocals into a song, but to what end? After you've heard ten songs about cannibal corpses eating live fetuses from the wombs of living mothers, you eventually see past the shock value and realize that it is ultimately comic. Such a thing is so absurd that it can't be taken seriously, and eventually the genre as a whole degrades and becomes a parody of itself. I'm not trying to suggest that surf rock is on the level of cannibal corpses, but I do believe that MOA has ceased to produce anything that forces the evolution of surf. The surf element of their music has become bland and inane while their eclectic weirdness continues to grow. Eventually, their listeners are going to realize that they either like listening to surf rock, and that MOA no longer sounds like surf, or that they just like weird music, and will see the surf part of their music as restricting their creativity. MOA could learn a lot from the Butthole Surfers, the greatest experimental band ever (although Mr. Bungle is definitely a close second); the Butthole Surfers were the ultimate in freakadelia: they didn't care about any particular brand of music at all. In fact, they gleefully stole and savaged every cherished brand of music imaginable and regurgitated it as wonderful and unspeakably demented horrors like a Cuisinart that has had a year's worth of garbage run through it.

Okay, so I've made several unconnected points here, but I haven't gotten to the crux of what I feel the issue with this band really is: MOA is starting to diverge from their "surfness"; even more so than they have before. I think this is good, because even though I like surf, it is an extremely limited genre for a band this inventive to be shackled to. I suggest a clean break. Dissolve the connection for good and never look back. By trying to adhere to the foundations of surf, they are denying themselves the opportunity to explore the murky depths of their right brains. Stop trying to push the limits of a genre, and focus on pushing the limits of the Astromen. I realize that this hasn't been much of a review of this album, and that is exactly the problem I have been alluding to: the only thing about this band that isn't interesting, is their music! If they cut out all of the surf and focused on making experimental noise as music I'd have more of a reason to listen, and certainly more to write about. Man Or Astroman? is a band at a threshold. They can take the plunge into true experimentalism, or they can continue to write music that attempts to fuse two genres, yet does little justice to either.

-JD

Track Listing:

  1. Pathway to the Infinite
  2. Song Of The Two-Mile Linear Particle Accelerator Stanford University, Stanford California
  3. Preparation Clont
  4. Curious Constructs of Stem-Like Devices Which Now Prepare Themselves To Be Thought Of As Fingers
  5. Um Espectro Sem Escala
  6. Many Pieces Of Large Fuzzy Mammals Gathered Together At A Rave And Schmoozing With A Brick
  7. (picture of a trapezoid)
  8. Very Subtle Elevators
  9. Within One Universe There Are Millions
  10. Spectrograph Reading Of The Varying Phantom Frequencies Of Chronic, Incurable Tinnitus
  11. A Simple Text File
  12. Obligatory Part 2 Song In Which There Is No Presently Existing Part 1, Nor The Plans To Make One
  13. Multi-Variational Stimuli Of Sub-Turgid Foci Covering Cross Evaluative Techniques For Cognitive Analysis Of Hypersignificant Graph Peaks Following Those Intersubjective Modules Having Biodegradable Seepage.

 

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