Their hearts may still be in outer space, but their sound expressions are moving down to earth. After the initial, muffled, band-in-a-mall introductory track, “Pathway to the Infinite,” Man or Astro-Man?’s latest release has cleaner, clearer and more lucid moments for our limited human perceptions to grasp. This could be because much of A Spectrum of Infinite Scale was recorded with Steve Albini, who is very much an earth-type biped, intent on leaving his big black thumbprint all over the indie universe. It shows on this CD, beginning with the second track. In it, MOAM? sheds much of its surface surfness, exposing a more sophisticated and narrative structure.
More than ever, the guitars are telling stories of adventure, and with each riff and tempo, they create distinct sound characters that continually interact and influence each other. Listen to “Preparation Clont” and hear Link Wray on an imperative mission impossible, desperately running and knocking into Maxwell Smart. Or try “Very Subtle Elevators” discover robots working in a mysterious, metallic-silver liquid-processing laboratory on planet Metropolis, the machinery slowing and grinding into an ominous, lavalike gritty guitar. You still hear the classic Man or Astro-Man? sound peeking in and out. Ventures-itus is incurable. Death-race guitars and tormented man-on-the-run songs are still around, veering off into different directions, always coming back to the home-base theme.
MOAM? isolates and explores sounds, giving them very human characteristics only to fold them in and on top of one another, back to abstraction, in their perpetual electronic experimentation. “A Simple Text File” presents the natural, unadulterated sonic beauty of a dot-matrix printer doing what it does best. And the last track, “Multi-Variational Stimuli of Sub-Turgid Foci Covering Cross Evaluative Techniques,” is pure black-and-white noise — the audible perception of molecules looking for an opening to infiltrate, like static rubbing against sandpaper. Intent human voices are being suffocated by interference. Something’s happening and it’s trying to make contact!
Remember, sometimes it takes an alien to show you how human you really are.
E-mail Anita Schmaltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.