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Sunburned Hand of the Man - Complexion

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Artist: Sunburned Hand of the Man

Album: Complexion

Label: Records

Review date: Jan. 29, 2006

Somerville, Massachusetts’ Sunburned Hand of the Man continued to lumber down their well-lubricated path towards psychedelic salvation in 2005. According to their website, they released 15 CDs, CD-Rs, LPs and cassettes last year alone – a dizzying output that’s near impossible for even the most dedicated fan to keep up with. Many of these slabs of sound were out of print within moments and are now hair-pullingly hard to track down for even the most well connected record snob. But aside from the difficulties involved in finding this shit, one must wonder at the worth of releasing so much material.

It has become quite the fad amongst the new wave of psych and drone pioneers to make nearly every note they produce available to the listening public. The nature of improv is such that it’s not uncommon for a band’s best work to come out of a one-off jam or sideline gig. For this reason, it makes sense for groups like Sunburned to record often, as they never know when spots of pure brilliance will shine through. Yet, the question remains as to whether it is worth pressing onto wax or burning onto disc the results of so many experimentations.

Complexion is a difficult album, as it makes a decently strong case for both sides of the argument. On one hand, the material – recorded live at the Somerville Community Growing Center in August 2004 – showcases the group’s increasingly tight improv abilities. On the other hand, there is plenty of time during the album’s 40-minute run that the band’s boil is reduced to little more than a simmer.

Side A blasts off with disembodied guitar notes shooting out from a center of feedback, backed by rolling toms and squabbling electronics. Eventually, it settles into a loping saunter, lead forward by the chilly shake of a tambourine and clenched barbs of knotted guitar notes. Things devolve from here into a cloud of clattering percussion and subterranean shakes of bass. A little more than half way through the side, the band launches into a burbling, monstrous stomp – demonic acid-jazz that actually sounds like the work of a group in the throes of an ego-shredding trip.

The second side begins with a sulfurous snarl of noise before settling into a stunted groove of dub-like bass and kitchen-sink clangs. The album winds to a close with intricate wood block percussion tethering a vortex of disembodied vocals, random electronic splatters and gusts of skree.

While Complexion offers no definitive statement as to whether it is best for the band to release such a landslide of material, the album contains enough moments of white-hot improvisational mind-burn to demand multiple spins. For now, Sunburned have continued to detour this discussion with the release of yet another flawed, but ultimately rich recording.

By Ethan Covey

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