Man or Astro-Man? goes far beyond instro-rock on A Spectrum of Infinite Scale

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 13, 2001

You don’t really picture Atlanta, Georgia, as a hotbed for instro-rock. I mean, that’s where the Black Crowes are from, and where the mighty Skynyrd ruled in the ’70s. But according to Birdstuff, the drummer and official spokesperson for Man or Astro-Man?, it’s as good a place as any.

“I don’t know what you would pick as a hotbed for instrumental rock now,” he says from his Atlanta home. “I mean, if you look at kind of the scene that we came out of—instrumental guitar music—there’s the Phantom Surfers in San Francisco, Huevos Rancheros in Calgary, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet in Toronto. So it’s spread out all over.”

With groups like the Falcons, the Surfdusters, Phantom 309, and the Swagmen, Vancouver has a decent instro-rock scene itself, so there should be a healthy turnout when MOAM plays Richard’s on Richards on Friday (December 14). This scribbler got into the quartet via the Steve Albini–produced Experiment Zero album of ’96, which mixed rollicking surf rock, B-movie sound bites, and sci-fi themes on tunes like “Cyborg Control” and “Evil Plans of Planet Spectra”. On the group’s latest CD, last year’s A Spectrum of Infinite Scale, it’s less surfy, less melodic, and a lot more insane. “We were really proud of that Experiment Zero record,” relates Birdstuff, “but we thought we had just become a little too formulaic.…So things have been getting more strange and experimental since then.”

Strange, indeed. Take the latest disc’s closing track, “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”. Listening to that five-minute-plus exercise in aural irritation is about as much fun as dancing a jig to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. The “song” makes heavy use of resonant, electricity-emitting devices known as tesla coils, which were built by band member Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard. “They’re basically what you would see in an old Frankenstein movie,” relates Birdstuff, “those five-, six-foot arcs of electricity that shoot out. A lot of that track uses tesla coils, because we wanted to make this kinda scary, noisy soundscape at the end.

“And the reason why that’s put there is because people don’t even listen to records anymore—they just put CDs in and listen to a few tracks and leave the room and sharpen their pencils and rearrange their sock drawers. And we wanted something at the end that was like, ‘Hey, this record’s getting ready to be over, this is gonna annoy you to such a degree you’re gonna have to turn it off.’ ”

Thankfully, static and white noise aren’t a major part of Man or Astro-Man?’s current show. In actual fact, the band spends most of its time handling guitar, bass, and drums. “Everything we do is live,” Birdstuff asserts. “We’re very into the idea of using an amalgamation of electronic and authentic instruments, but we’re also into the idea of actually playing them. I mean, I like a lot of hard-line electronic music, but I don’t like going to see an act that just looks like they’re checkin’ their e-mail for half an hour.”

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