Although they haven’t released a proper studio album since 2010’s A, Sunburned Hand of the Man possesses a discography so vast it would make the typical workaholic musician’s head spin. A visit to their Bandcamp page shows nearly 150 separate releases. Formed in the late 1990s from the ashes of the Boston punk band Shit Spangled Banner, Sunburned Hand of the Man have churned out dozens of releases in various formats, performing within an exhausting array of genres. Free jazz, punk, psych-rock, hypnotic krautrock, exotic synth freakouts – if it can be played, they’ve at least attempted it.
In a way, their latest album, Pick a Day to Die, is a fitting entry point into this band’s vast catalog. Assembled from recently revisited recording sessions from 2007 to 2017, the album’s seven songs touch on several different genres the band has immersed itself in over the years. Kicking off the album with “Dropped a Rock” is an interesting choice as it eases the listener into the Sunburned world. Abrasive riffs and cathartic yelping are put aside in favor of Jeremy Pisani’s moody acoustic guitar fingerpicking, accompanied by primitive percussion sounds and spooky yet low-key atmospherics.
But the pace soon picks up with the driving krautrock beat of the title track, accompanied by droning synths and far-off howling sounds as vocalist Shannon Ketch growls with Beefheart-like exhortations like “She’ll make you an eight-piece chicken dinner… total revolution, blood in the streets” and “taste the campfire!” It’s an atmosphere that’s certainly unsettling, but the music locks into a hypnotic groove for more than seven minutes, and it never seems overindulgent. “Flex” exerts the same type of trance-like mood but with a more sedate, almost danceable feel.
Splitting the difference between psych-rock and mellow grooves, “Solved” employs a quaint drum machine and laid-back acoustic guitars while buzzing effects and Ketch’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics hang over the whole affair. And on what may be the weirdest track on the album – which is saying a lot – “Initials” throws an entire bevy of sonic ingredients into the mix, including synthetic percussion, chunky, Phil Lesh-inspired bass runs, random vocal yelps, manipulated spoken word recordings, and far-off, spacey synth blips.
A return to their early punk roots, “Prix Fixe” sees the band embracing a nihilistic sound complete with a fuzzy, Stooges-like swagger (and some weirdly out-of-place axe shredding) before everything drops out and a slower psychedelic feel takes over, embracing the mid-1970s guitar-based work of Pink Floyd. This closing track is an excellent snapshot of Sunburned Hand of the Man’s insistence on covering all musical bases, as well as an exciting glimpse of the band’s collective influences. Pick a Day to Die is an album that pushes limits. Many bands claim to talk about working with a broad musical palette, but Sunburned Hand of the Man genuinely walks the walk.