‘On Oni Pond’
For decades, the rock music scene of Philadelphia has been overshadowed by its prodigious jazz and soul scenes.
The City of Brotherly Love has produced scores of jazz giants, including John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Smith. In the late 1960s and ’70s, the city practically invented a sub-genre of soul music dubbed “the Philadelphia Sound,” epitomized by artists, such as Patti LaBelle, the Delfonics, the Stylistics, the Spinners and the O’Jays.
For the past 15 years or so, however, an incredibly strong rock and pop scene has emerged in Philadelphia. Philly bands, such as G. Love and Special Sauce, Dr. Dog, Kurt Vile and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, have been garnering national attention, even as a definable “Philadelphia Rock” rock has remained elusive.
Man Man, a propulsive, rhythm-oriented rock band from Philadelphia, has been a local phenomenon for the past decade. Its unique instrumentation and wild live shows have made it a fan and music critic darling, even if national attention has been lacking.
That might change with the release of its latest album, “On Oni Pond.” The songs are much more structured, the melodies more discernable among the chaos and the instrumentation more mellow.
“On Oni Pond” is the result of an extended songwriting session by keyboardist Honus Honus (Ryan Kattner) and drummer Pow Pow (Christopher Sean Powell). Later, the duo got together with the other members of the band, plus an assortment of guest musicians and recorded the album at Arc Studios.
The resulting album, what the band is calling a “reconstruction” of its sound, is completely unique and compelling, with a timeless feel that recalls Talking Heads’ “Fear of Music” or Shriekback’s “Oil and Gold.”
“With this album, we got to do something that very few bands or creative people get to do, which is a reboot, and one that feels natural,” Kattner said.
“This is a strange and beautiful record, but it’s also head-on and fearless. It’s not a record that’s going to flirt with you, this is a record that’s asking you out. If you get into bed with us, there’s going to be a relationship.”
“On Oni Pond” opens with the short, horn-led instrumental, “Oni Swan,” before kicking off with the thumping, driving and surfy “Pink Wonton.”
“There’s a line in ‘Pink Wonton’ that was inspired by one of our shows in Asheville,” Kattner said. “There was a bunch of young guys at the shows that were trying to pass themselves off as Amish. They might really have been Mennonite, I don’t really know. But they were rocking out. Then they brought us some fresh milk from their farm. As my bandmates passed it around and drank it, I couldn’t help think about the unique situation we were in, drinking a milk-like substance given to us by some total strangers.”
The event inspired the “Pink Wonton” lyrics, “From the udder to the mouth, we’re all biding our time.”
Accroding to Kattner, speaking from a motel room in St. Louis, Mo., the band is playing tracks from all five Man Man albums on its current tour, which runs through the end of February.
When asked how fans are reacting to the mellower tunes on “On Oni Pond,” Kattner said, “There will always be some wild ponytail guys who want to rock out on every single song, but for the most part our audiences are happy to go on this journey with us. The last thing we would want to do is make the same album again and again.”
Indeed, songs, such as the beautifully winsome “Head On,” with its wistful refrain of “Hold onto your heart, hold it high above flood waters, hold onto your heart, never let nobody drag it under,” are as daring as anything Man Man has recorded thus far.
Man Man will perform live at the Grey Eagle in Asheville on Tuesday, Feb. 4. Musician Xenia Rubinos will open the show and then join Man Man for selected tunes.
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Doors open at 8 p.m.