Sunburned Hand of the Man
The Secret in Disguise
he first time you experiment with hallucinogens is a lot like the first time you experiment with sex: despite the ineradicable anxiety that jousts head-on with mental and/or physical cravings the end result leaves you decidedly dysphasic; but fully relieved (in that gloriously heavy double-entendre kind of way) and ultimately ready to go again, as all those ‘cryptic’ erectile-dysfunction adverts claim without a modicum of subtlety. Hearing Sunburned is sorta like this; seeing Sunburned is like this. It’s unfortunate that this is one of those bands that you have to see ‘to get’. And I abhor that verbal conundrum. What is there really ‘to get’? (You’ve got the same apparatus as I do: eyes, ears, gray matter; make it work, motherfucker.) The Sunburned live-set is in substance and matter an aural equivalent to the aforementioned imploration; there’s a lot to take in; the stage is loaded with a hoard of Sweat-Hog stunt-doubles wading through patch-cords and toppling over hand-drums, and twiddling knobs, and shaking shakers and bells and cymbals, and futzing with fritzing primitive drum-machines, and fingering electric guitars, and dry-humping bass guitars, and prodding propulsive often-times motorik drum-kit’d linearity.
But they come on slow, whipping sound(s) into stiff-peaks over an intangibly long time; adding to and subtracting from and fortunately ameliorating prior sporadic sound(s) to craft a big mass of undulating boogie that metastasizes through your auditory canals and gets you shaking your ass just like the I-don’t-dance guy right next to you. The last time I saw Sunburned, they did just this—but not without the type of SCTV cum Jackass episodic madness that’s nearly preceding their music nowadays, at least in its damn-this-is-crazy notoriety. The thing is though, this stuff doesn’t detract from their music; it decidedly empowers it, all while stripping away some pretension that emanates from a collective who take their rite of drum-circle as ‘soberly’ as the categorical imperative from time to time. So, when you see Rob Thomas slowly striking a cowbell with—get this—an acoustic guitar neck freed from its body (get it?), or the ‘rev’ John Maloney twirling a glow-in-the-dark skull mask on a drumstick and howling in a freakishly heliated voice, or Rich Pontius slowly rolling out mosaics of guitarted élan not heard since Zoot Horn Rollo played along to James Blood Ulmer’s 1978 LP, Tales of Captain Black, or Chad Cooper hiding behind a plastic shrub shaking maracas or striking cymbals or gonging gongs or throwing stuff or trying and often times succeeding in tripping band mates with the spilt bowls of patch-cord spaghetti that litter the stage’s floor, just know that it’s not recondite or inchoate or contrived in a let’s-exchange-kicks-for-licks-b/c-we-can’t-do-any-better manner, because it’s anything and everything but that.
David Keenan had a hell of a time trying to ‘keep it real’ in his chiliastic ‘New Weird America’ article in The Wire; and that’s what makes Sunburned so golden: they have a built-in bullshit deflector; they are ‘keepin’ it real’; there’s no need for them to intellectualize their music; it already appeals to a listener—or performer—on an intellectual level, just as it appeals to a listener—or performer—on a visceral level; and, granted, Keenan did get this right, but instead of extrapolating on this point, he crafted some sorta quasi-mythology of/about the pantheon comprised of Sunburned folk, etc. That’s why it has to be to a ‘critic’s’ advantage to not dwell, pick apart, unpack or—God, forbid—deconstruct Sunburned’s music. So, I’m left avoiding mentioning CDR proper for fear of stepping in the same fustian poo that Keenan soiled his Clark’s with. Any attempt at de trop clarification or classification is pointless; merely know that The Secret in Disguise is as good as anything else Sunburned have out there; which is to say it’s ‘danceable’ and ‘meandering’ and ‘trippy’, and limited to only 750 copies, which means it’s going to be going for three times its worth on eBay in a month or so. So there.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2004-08-25