Los Angeles has a way of bringing out the noir in creatives. That may sound ironic to those of us shivering in puffer jackets when temperatures plummet on the East Coast, but as we’ve seen in such things as the chilly Drive soundtrack, bizarre dreams of could-have-been fame in David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive, Ben Gibbard asking “Why You’d Want to Live Here,” and even the downpouring, dystopian future of Blade Runner (among other things), it’s clear that even warm climates and the Pacific Ocean can only do so much to distract from the City of Angels’ oddities.
It’s precisely these things Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus) seeks to address in his first solo venture apart from Philadelphia skronk-pop outfit Man Man. Following a move to L.A., Use Your Delusion brings together names like drummer Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, The Shins), Shannon & The Clams vocalist Shannon Shaw and scream-queen actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane, Death Proof, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and offers a punny update to Guns ‘N Roses’ 1991 releases and goes in hard on his new city’s singularities. To that end, the album’s jittery opener, “Vampires in the Valley,” is an “ode to the Mexican Bela Lugosi / Lives in the basement apartment of my building… telling me his day will come / Telling me his break will come.” (I haven’t spent all that much time in L.A. myself, but I hear most people will corner you at parties to tell you about their half-written screenplays. So this sounds pretty on point.)
But Honus isn’t necessarily disenchanted with his surroundings. If anything, he’s just playing the observer and funneling what he sees into the sort of sprightly tales of despondency that define Man Man’s sound on all five of their records. In that regard, Use Your Delusion could easily pass as the follow-up to 2013’s On Oni Pond. And Honus is fine with that, even telling Pledge Music earlier this year, “I mean, everything I’ve ever made just went into Man Man, so there was never any clear line like ‘this is Man Man’ and ‘this is solo stuff.’ It’s all the same stuff, you know? Like these songs could be Man Man, there is no clear distinction.”
True, boundaries and line-drawing have never been Honus’ priority. Perhaps that’s why Man Man earned such a reputation for their increasingly frenetic live shows. It’s also an explanation for Honus’ eagerness to play around with genres on Delusion, pogo-bouncing from echoing reggae on “Oh No!” (which bears a significant resemblance to the much-covered rocksteady jam “The Tide is High”) to synth-smothered new wave on the retro-futuristic “Midnight Caller” and the thundering “Curious Magic.”
And so, an unfettered Honus is both a good and bad thing—on one hand we get an outpouring of ideas, grabby hooks and standout lyricism that inspires visions of Edgar Allan Poe at the beach. On the other hand, Delusion risks running off the rails due to lack of album-ready cohesion (for every poppy banger there is a semi-tedious piano ballad). It could be that Honus’ sudden tonal shifts work as a metaphor for a sunny city overlaid by a chronic smog blanket. Either way, Delusion succeeds as a record by letting the listener know that, above all, Honus doesn’t have any.