2 out of 5
Label: VHF Records
Produced by: Sunburned Hand of the Man
I’m gonna say this is a love it or hate it kind of affair.
Having existed at the fringes of VHF Records and experimental bands I’m down with, I’ve always meant to dig into Sunburned Hand of the Man more, though the rare samplings I’ve dipped in to admittedly haven’t encouraged me to explore further. And while I can’t say how this 900th or whatever album – Hypnotape, their first release in VHF – really stacks up against their catalogue, it unfortunately doesn’t go against that initial (lack of) impression. But I can definitely see how much of this falls into very subjective territory, moreso than just giving it an art-rock tag or something, and I’m furthermore turned off by a superficial element – the sound of the various singers (or talkers) voices.
For those perhaps new to this, as I essentially am, SHotM, on this recording, does harken back to VHF of yore – like their single digit release, or within the first few years of the catalogue – when Rake’s scattershot recordings of mixed punk and nonsense happened, and it was much more common to hear completely off-kilter stuff that couldn’t be classified by a roundabout folk or noise tag. And that’s kind of cool, getting something like that in the modern age, and isn’t at all disappointing in that regard; as a VHF collector, I like being surprised by things like this, while still hearing how it fits into the imprint’s overall discography. How that actually plays out: Hypnotape is mostly one of three types of songs – spoken word surrealism or pokey narratives set against a plunking mix of guitar, bass, drums and other affectations; some longer-form drone-touched loops of instrumentals; and shorter nonsense, with a huge lyrical focus on food, where the music is a bit more direct, at times recalling Feller filler or even Camper Van Beethoven’s early herky-jerk at points. And here and there we get some shouting and shredding, which is where I’m reminded of Rake’s all-encompassing approach.
I’m actually very, very keen on the majority of the music, whether the backing to the spoken word stuff or the longer instrumentals, but by the same token… it’s maybe not consistently interesting enough. While you’ll see a boatload of instruments and players listed in the credits, and the music affects a ramshackleness, the production / mix on this (the latter by Marc Seedorf) is really quite warm and immersive, and downplays the rough edges in favor of melody, which is wholly musical, and kinda contrary to the strained “weird” nature of the lyrics. It’s all legitimately pretty pleasant. The shorter songs, which are a bit more playful, I could ultimately take or leave, though – these are, again, not really experimental, just trying on different genre hats, and it’s such a mixed bag that I couldn’t get in to one song over another.
The real make or break element here, though, is the singing, which, as stated, is really more like talking. The words are very painfully pun-heavy, like dad-joke type, and the whole presentation feels so forced to be arty – stumbling over words; faux “wisdom;” absurdities that fall flat when paired with the humdrum music – that I’m just kind of cringing the whole while. Pair that with some vocal ranges that totally don’t work for me, and I had a hard time settling into anything that wasn’t those instrumental tracks – perhaps a 1/4th out of the total 17 songs.
This is a long-running group, though, and I suspect that long-running fans are prepped for all of this. If you’re also not tripped up by the vocals, and maybe the dad jokes work for you, then this could be a much more successful listen. For me, while I’m glad to have one Sunburned record to reflect on, it certainly hasn’t changed my lack of desire to explore further.