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Album Review: Chris Burns — Out of the Well

April 19, 2012 2 comments

Chris Burns: Out of the Well

By Jeremy Lukens

In the five years since his debut EP, CB Radio, Chris Burns has transformed from a loop pedal-wielding solo musician to frontman of a full band. The inherent risk in such a change is to go from a raw, intimate sound to overproduced pop alchemy. In the case of Burns’ full-length debut, Out of the Well, those pitfalls are largely avoided. Though “Skeleton” is more powerful in a stripped single-guitar format and “Every Fool’s Been Here” could do without the horn flourishes, overall the album is an eclectic collection of pop gems.

Stylistically Burns’ music is an assault on the acoustic fretboard, with punchy staccato rhythms and hammered arpeggios. The addition of a full band fleshes out the sound, adding a worldly thump and jazz flourishes. On “Skeleton,” the skeleton in a man’s closet tells him “I think that it may be time for you to let me out.” Out of the Well is in large part Burns doing exactly that, purging the feelings haunting his soul via pen and six-string.

The album is rich with themes of love, faith, and the exorcising of personal demons. “Mother’s Day” finds Burns struggling through life without his late mother, haunted by “the silhouette of a lifetime that’s never coming back.” The blues-tinged “Old” is a call to action, attacking excuses for apathy regarding the word’s problems. Those problems are brought to life with “Mission,” a track inspired by a trip to Malawi. Overwhelmed by the extreme poverty and illness, Burns pleads “how’s a broken man like me supposed to help God’s child?”

On the title track, Burns says that “life is a snapshot of your way home.” Out of the Well is a snapshot of the struggles encountered on a personal journey through a fallen world. Burns’ velveteen voice and warm guitar tone belie the hard truth that such a journey will have many dark chapters. As in the Andrew Hudgins poem from which the album takes its name, Burns shows that it is only when confronting that darkness that you can truly appreciate the light.

Jeremy is a music critic for Glide Magazine.

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Man Man: Life Fantastic (4.5 stars)

Listening to Man Man’s music is taking a journey down a rabbit hole, observing a world that mirrors yours but is a little less predictable, a little less sane. Life Fantastic continues that tradition, immersing the listener in a series of incongruous narratives and song structures.

With clever wordplay and eccentric storytelling, frontman Ryan Kattner weaves hallucinatory tales of twisted love, drug abuse and cannibalism. Backing the unsettling stories are ridiculously catchy indie rock hooks, mostly based around Kattner’s keyboards. Man Man thrives on toying with the listener’s expectations, offering syncopated rhythms and specializing in dynamic shifts in volume and speed.

“Spooky Jookie” tells the story of a woman whose body is breaking down from drug addiction. “Her body condemned itself to feeling like an empty building,” Kattner laments. The creepy “Haute Tropique” portrays a serial killer turning corpses into household objects. He feels bad about his murderous urges, but is motivated by a voice in his head saying “you’re born what you’re meant to be; if you’re bad then be bad the best.” “Shameless,” the album’s best track, tells the more relatable story of a man suffering from unrequited love, but it still retains Man Man’s trademark eccentricity.

Life Fantastic has some stripped down moments, such as the desolate ballad “Steak Knives.” However, Man Man is at their best when over the top, splicing divergent styles and instruments with eerie tales of the dregs of society. Man Man knows what they were meant to be, and at what they do, they are the best.

Review previously posted on GlideMagazine.com

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