Man or Astro-Man?
Pulling together the beach-bound surf exotica of the 1960s with the early electronic, space-age bachelor-pad music of the 1950s and building their manic, punkish crescendos beyond any brand of kitsch was what made the now-30-year-old, Alabama-born outfit Man or Astro-Man? bold, yet uneasy to define. Perhaps it was the earnestness of MOAM (despite their cartoon conceptualism, goofy band-member names like Birdstuff and Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard, and Mystery Science Theater fandom) and their hard-driving, rhythmic sound that kept the often-instrumental outfit roaring (and audiences guessing) as they did for eight studio albums and a handful of EPs up until 2013. Were they silly or were they serious?
For their return to the studio (they released Live at Third Man Records in 2017, as well as the six-minute Space 1991 studio EP four years later), Man or Astro-Man? are angrier and more propulsive-sounding than in their past, and with that, more bluntly direct in their execution. The title track to the lastest studio EP Distant Pulsars thunders while scaling a wall of sound more spectral than Spector-al, ripping through squiggly, nervous guitar solos and intoning buggy, chant-like vocals.
While the key to “Microverses” is in its crusty fuzztone guitars riffing through a driving, snapped-snare pulse with a discernible melody reminiscent of British post-punks Magazine and Killing Joke, “Signal Intrusions” moves its post-everything to an airier guitar sound (the open hollow pluck of Joy Division), and a rhythm that sounds sequenced, but probably isn’t. Shorter than an album, Distant Pulsar doesn’t keep us guessing any longer as to whether or not MOAM are clowns, yet doesn’t stick around long enough to figure out all of its intentions.