Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Man and the Scientist - The Invisible Hand Is a Hoof (2016)

Artist: The Man and the Scientist
Album: The Invisible Hand Is a Hoof
Release Date: 15 July 2016
Label: Self-released (via bandcamp)

01. Anubis
02. Bar-D-Que
03. The Sound of a Bumble Bee Keistering Pollen
04. 60/60 Vision: Right Eye
05. Toad Spokes
06. God Likes America As a Friend
07. Reverse Mechanics
08. Eavesdropping on Your Own Funeral
09. Happy Birthday Forever
10. 60/60 Vision: Left Eye
11. Do You Guys Give Up, or Are You Thirsty for More?
12. I Like to Count to 4 As Much As the Next Guy
13. It's All for You Damien [hidden track]

The Man and the Scientist is the collaborative project of Brad Schumacher (Night Grinder, The Least Comma, Street Justice, etc.) and Josh King (Tornado Head/The Everest Ruin, The Last Glacier, The Oust, and so on). They've worked on a series of other projects together as well, including some (full disclosure!) that have included myself (e.g., Baal's Beacon). Both enjoy building their own instruments and both have deep roots in noise and experimental music. However, Josh has a deep catalog of singer-songwriter, rock, and jazz-oriented material, while Brad has operated in variety of post-industrial affairs.

Their earliest performances and albums as a duo (Pornucopia, 2007, and Duke Brunch, 2007/2008) were primarily oriented around pure, experimental noise. Guitars were only present as inputs into noise rigs, just like the copious use of contact mics. Caves, recorded in 2009, espoused a more placid, practically ambient sound, with relatively clean guitar as a primary instrument. Their most recent album, a collaboration with Falsetto Boy/Cup Collector/Jim Fitzpatrick (Top Teeth, 2014, credited to Falsetto Man & the Scientist), married drum machines and synth-like noise with improvisational guitar and bass.

The Invisible Hand Is a Hoof takes this wide array of sounds and styles and brings them together. "Anubis" starts off the album with a heavy, aggressive, almost metal sound, recalling Brad's earliest punk days and the most intense moments of The Last Glacier. "Bar-D-Que" is a brief jolt of thick layers of static, noise, and radio garbage, which abruptly leads into another short blast of energy, "The Sound of a Bumble Bee Keistering Pollen". The percussion, consisting of a fast-paced metallic rhythm and what sound like tuned bells or bars, resembles Einstürzende Neubauten.

From there, the intensity takes a step down and the band explore ideas introduced from the members' assorted other projects. Unlike previous albums, in which the two core personalities were welded together to form one cohesive, overarching sound, this album reveals distinct, discernible elements of the specific interests of both members. The album has myriad sonic colors, although much of the album aligns roughly into two divisions.

Both "60/60 Vision" pieces, "Eavesdropping on Your Own Funeral", and "I Like to Count to 4 As Much As the Next Guy" are strikingly melody-oriented and almost peaceful. This isn't ambient music, though, as the sinister keyboard in "Left Eye", the chiming guitars of "Eavesdropping", and the dark synth tones of "Count to 4" make clear. Furthermore, while "Eavesdropping" has a light, pastoral mood, the title and theme are less comfortable. Part of the pleasure of these songs lies in the sophisticated bass work, which serves as a reminder that both Schumacher and King have gravitated towards the instrument in their recent work.

The opposite side of the spectrum is embodied by "God Likes America As a Friend", "Happy Birthday Forever", and the Home Alone-referencing "Do You Guys Give Up, or Are You Thirsty for More?". These are noisier songs, deliberately ugly and unsettling in places. "God Likes America" might go on too long after it makes its point clear, but the ridiculous sound collage of "Happy Birthday" is mildly hilarious after you get past the challenging listening experience. "Do You Guys Give Up" is a brutally self-aware statement to put near the end of a 56-minute noise album, but if you put the sparse soundscape in the perspective of Kevin McCallister booby-trapping his house against thieves, it too becomes more captivating. Even Brad's suppressed laugh fits the storyline.

"Reverse Mechanics" is the song most deliberately reminiscent of Brad's work as Night Grinder. The tense, hyperactive, squelchy drums and noise rig explosions would put the song right in line with Immediate Content (2014). On the other hand, "Toad Spokes" could practically be a b-side from Josh's Super Platformer (2014). The video game-like keyboards, the stilted rhythm, and even the bizarre spoken/rant section have the same sense of retro-futuristic otherworldliness.

The lone outlier is the final, hidden track, "It's All for You Damien". It consists simply of a conversation between the principals about a third person, a loud burst of noise, and then a conversation about shopping for electronics at Goodwill. It's not a particularly musical track, but if you've made it that far and can keep up with the humor, it feels like a coda, or a reminder of the human context that such unusual sounds and textures were born from.

The Invisible Hand Is a Hoof is the work of an experimental band that isn't done growing. It shares a few elements and a lot of the spirit of previous albums, but it is firmly a series of steps in a number of new directions for the duo. For fans of either member's other projects, it's a pleasure to hear them transform similar ideas into a different space for this project. This may be their most compelling album yet.

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