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Ears & Fingers 9/12/13

Man Man – ‘On Oni Pond’
Man Man are an enigma. I remember the first time I saw them, and it was almost unintentional. I was in New Orleans to see Modest Mouse on their “We Were Dead…” Tour, and upon arrival, we noticed that there were three bands playing prior, one being Man Man. This was disheartening, but we made the best of it and took in some of New Orleans before heading back to the House of Blues. We weren’t ready for what we walked into. Jazz ensemble, a drummer partially turned away from the crowd who frequently leapt from his throne when hitting his crashes, people running around the stage, chaotic compositions, and strained vocals. This was Man Man, and they immediately had my attention, because while these descriptors sound like they would cause mass confusion on stage, the sounds escaping were actually quite coherent. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been quite as impressed with a band as I was that night.

“On Oni Pond” is Man Man’s fifth studio album since the band’s inception in 2003. As with many of their previous releases, this album centers mainly on the unconventional songwriting of leader Honus Honus, and draws from a bevy of styles and influences. There is something very mature about this album. While maintaining their distinct approach to clever rock music, Man Man have made something much more accessible and cohesive than any past effort. There is a sense of confidence alive on this album, which is powerful coming from a band who already do whatever they want to do. Highlights include the folky “Deep Cover,” high energy “Pyramids,” introspective oddball “Paul’s Grotesque,” and catchy lead single “Head On.” Man Man are an absolute enigma, but with the swagger they have developed on this release, they may also be unstoppable. “On Oni Pond” is out now via Anti- Records.

Nine Inch Nails – ‘Hesitation Marks’
It’s impossible to call Trent Reznor a musical chameleon. Agreed, he has taken some chances with his music in the past, specifically over the last decade with resigning from a major label and using a DIY ethos to release his music independently over the Internet. He also helped to define a genre when NIN rose to prominence in the early ‘90s, as industrial metal was largely unheard of, especially on a national level. However, Trent does write a lot of his music within the confines of dark, ethereal, self-loathing aesthetics.

Being a fan of NIN since I was an angst-y 14-year-old, I can say from experience that while remotely similar, his output is usually interesting and captivating. With the release of his eighth studio album, “Hesitation Marks,” Trent allows us to peer further into his psyche than possibly ever before. “I am just a copy of a copy of a copy,” are the first words uttered on the album, and do a pretty decent job at summing up Reznor’s reservations or fears, which encompass much of the album’s lyrical scope.

During the band’s rise to prominence nearly 20 years ago, NIN were almost a household name, whether being praised or accosted. Now, a couple of decades later, Trent is dealing with issues of relevance and aging, much akin to many men his age, and his worries bleed into his music. These issues make “Hesitation Marks” not only interesting, but also easily empathized with, as he strays from ever sounding overly pathetic. Musically, the album is just as tense, grinding, lush, and dark as the majority of the NIN catalog, but Reznor makes some choices in production and composition which seem to give this album a bit more of a catchy edge. While Nine Inch Nails aren’t going out on many musical limbs, I guarantee this album will keep your attention. “Hesitation Marks” is out now via Columbia Records.