Man Man’s silliness has always tended to exceed its music in terms of captivation. Sure, the records blaze by with unorthodox flash — but repeat visits tend to scrape away their idiosyncrasies. Luckily, the band’s preserved itself with a walloping live act and a self-imposed mythology; we are talking about a quartet of Honus Honus, Pow Pow, T. Moth and Chang Wang, after all.
Life Fantastic deemphasizes their goof a bit. The record restricts their trademark eclecticism into what is probably their most self-contained album thus far. Honus is singing more directly, more honestly, and less cryptically about his usual repertoire of pitch-dark subjects: addiction, death, depression and lack of sex. His backing band’s eccentricities are turned down to a general (still pretty weird) vaudeville blast, which does a good job of accentuating their song-craft, rather than just a shake-down of odd, individual elements. That’s not to say they aren’t still jaunty — the straightforwardness of these songs makes them some of the most rewarding Man Man has ever built. “Piranhas Club” erupts in devil-may-care swagger, and “Dark Arts” blooms in gothic glory, but most of these are mid-level jams. With their added sheen courtesy of producer Mike Mogis, the record tends to tumble through fingers, perhaps demanding less immediate attention than their gratuitously bizarre earlier work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s good to see the band evolve past those crutches of peculiarity. I just hope next time they find better footing in a world without kazoos.