While Man or Astro-Man? is generally labeled a surf band, assuming that the group’s music is simply 1960s revivalism would be a mistake. While it’s true that some of the songs on the latest Man or Astro-Man? LP, A Spectrum of Infinite Scale, belong to the surf genre, others are too modern or just too weird to fit into that category.
A few tracks provide some fairly straightforward beach sounds. Despite their baffling titles, “Song of the Two-Mile Linear Particle Accelerator,” “Preparation Clont,” and “Spectrograph Reading of the Varying Phantom Frequencies of Chronic, Incurable Tinnitus.” are fairly typical modern surf fare similar to that turned out by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Other tracks, however, can only be called avant-garde, with their profusion of bleeps, whirrs, and, on “A Simple Text File,” even the annoying buzz of the nearly forgotten dot matrix printer.
Such a description might intrigue more open-minded readers, but please don’t let it. Be warned that the odd mix of sounds on A Spectrum of Infinite Scale seems a lot more interesting on paper than it does on your CD player. The same goes for the long, cryptic song titles—they make the songs sound a lot more interesting than they really are.
Maybe Man or Astro-Man? feels it is necessary to be extraordinarily strange because neo-surf bands are so common these days that one needs a gimmick to get noticed. Or the band might be attempting to pay homage to obscure audio experiments of the 1960s, like those freaky albums that were meant to demonstrate some new device, or those that attempted to predict the future direction of sound by creating something so ludicrous that it actually was ahead of its time.
My guess is that Man or Astro-Man? makes an unholy racket in an attempt to do both these things. That’s all nice and well if the result is engaging music. In this case, the result is something like what you’d hear at a really shitty job in an office where the machines are outdated pieces of crap. Yes, that is the only way to describe it: You’re rocking around on a rickety chair, looking at a dummy terminal with that big, green text, copying files onto a 5 1/4” disk, while listening to the whirring of a dying dot matrix printer. If that sounds grand, you should try working at one of my old jobs. Or pick up a copy of A Spectrum of Infinite Scale.