Sunburned Hand of the Man
Sunburned Hand of the Man
he package was extremely cryptic when I fished it out of my mailbox, but that’s apparently part of the design: Sunburned Hand Of The Man’s 2003 self-titled live album, originally limited to 900 copies on vinyl, is now part of Wabana Records’ “Reissue The LP” campaign, which is nice for those of us who probably were never going to get around to hearing these sorts of bands otherwise. The unified design scheme of these re-released albums is as follows: Purple cardboard digipack, blank except for the black-and-green skull and crossbones on the back. The original vinyl cover art is put on the front via a sticker, and other than that, nothing; no titles, no label name, nada.
The result, when coupled with the particular muse these four untitled tracks are chasing, is the kind of illicit thrill you get when someone hands you an unlabelled mix tape, the thrill of music devoid of context, a sound that comes from nowhere and feeds into nothing. Or alternatively, what sounds like it might be a bunch of hippies sitting around and “jamming.”
Having now heard Sunburned Hand of the Man, I understand a little more what Stewart Voegtlin was saying when he took a crack at describing them on Stylus a while back; when he said “I’m left avoiding mentioning the CD-R proper,” he meant it. This is danceable and meandering and trippy too (to use his words), but if you start trying to describe Sunburned Hand of the Man’s music using the normal language, you start feeling a bit silly.
Let’s see; there are bongos and guitars and cymbals and gongs and a saxophone, and one or more gentlemen grunting and moaning and generally making like Mark E. Smith. The track divisions are not exactly arbitrary, but they sure feel that way. For what it’s worth I wholeheartedly believe Voegtlin and others about SHofM’s live efficacy, as even on plastic they come across as intermittently compelling in the same way as Two Lone Swordsmen’s weird fifteen-minute remix of Spiritualized’s “Come Together” is; but like that remix (which bears little or no audible relation to the source material) it requires effort and focus on the part of the listener or else it floats away.
Sure, turn this up loud enough and concentrate and you can hear why these guys make this music, and also why they don’t seem to particularly care what anyone else thinks; there’s a place in the center of the music they make where the self dissolves and something else resolves in your vision, but how exactly can you talk about that in a record review? If Sunburned Hand of the Man was somehow capable of inducing that state rather than just helping the determined listener along the way, then hey, A++, I’d start copying it out for all my friends and proselytizing about it to strangers. Instead it just allows the possibility, and it’s the possibility of something modern civilization rejects out of hand, and when you throw that out, you’re left with… what sounds like a slightly more avant-garde version of a drum circle or something. Or to put it another way: A lot of people will just dismiss this sound as soon as their knees start jerking.
And even if you’re one of the willing, curious, or credulous, this isn’t the best place to hear this. The soft murk of the live recording enhances matters a bit, but all this really does is make me want to decamp to wherever they’re playing next, or else get a bunch of like-minded friends and try to recreate the effect. Which is higher praise than most records get, but I‘m still left staring at the purple sleeve of an album I’m not sure I’ll ever bother listening to again.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-05-19