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By Michael Henningsen

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Are you there God? It's me, Michael.
!!!!= Damn!
!!!= One man's (blank) is another man's (blank).
!!= Nap time, kids.
!= I can't feel my legs.

Man or Astro-Man
Made From Technetium
(Touch 'n' Go)

They're back. After two extensive tours, a single, an EP and several full-length false starts, Man or Astro-Man have returned to this business of recording and releasing entire albums. Was it worth the wait? Rest assured that it was. Hell, even the goofy electronically enhanced voice that blathers on about how technologically advanced Man or Astro-Man is on "Message from the CD," the record's opening track, is almost worth it. But if that's not enough for you, there's plenty more to sink your ears into.

For one thing, there's the samples. If but one thing can be said of Man or Astro-Man it is that they are brilliant when it comes to the collection and careful placement of brilliant samples. And they keep getting better at it. The twisted surf rock songs remain the same, but the electronic enhancements add an element that almost makes the reverberating guitars, minor pentatonic riffs and flam-rich drumming incidental. There are samples of everything from vintage "Star Trek" episodes to TV documentaries.

Sprawling arrangements and lengthy sample passages make it nearly impossible, in all but a few cases, to tell where one song ends and another begins. Imagine Ennio Morricone writing music for some sci-fi B-movie with trashcan robots, styrofoam landscapes and beakers bubbling over with green shit. Put Yul Brynner in the starring role directed by Sergio Leone with a cameo by Dean Martin, and you have yourself one hell of a record. It isn't much different than previous Man or Astro-Man releases, but imagine the crisis that would arise if the galaxy's finest surf rock band were to stray far from what has become their signature.

Made From Technetium is more sparse musically than early MOAM recordings, with more emphasis on random noise and fabricated sounds. That approach has led to both moments of brilliance and low points on the record. The upside is that when the record falls flat on its face, it always recovers rather quickly with some interlude that effectively erases any trace of displeasure from your memory. This is one of the strangest albums of the year. Enjoy! !!!!1/2

The Sultans
The Sultans

Following years of working with everyone and trying to make it work with someone, blues guitarist Scott Mitchell has found all the pieces to the puzzle. His reputation as one of the finest, most inventive guitarists in the Southwest is no exaggeration--Mitchell has listened to, borrowed and learned from nearly all forms of the blues--from the Texas guitar sound that made a legend of Stevie Ray Vaughn and is making legends of guys like Kenny Wayne Sheppard and Eddy Shaver, to the fuck-me blues and rockabilly doled out to sweaty audiences nationwide by the Paladins. You can hear just about anything you want to in Mitchell's playing, including the man's own soul.

It's been that way for a long time, of course, but was never as obvious as it is when fueled by the right band, namely bassist Jeff "Jose Suave" Sipe and drummer Brian Fahey. If you ever wonder what is meant by the use of the word "chemistry" in reference to musical groups, look no further than The Sultans self-titled debut. The 10 tracks that make up the record flow naturally together, making the entire album seem more like an acrchival favorite than a debut. And as much as it is a triumph for The Sultans, so is it another for producer/engineer Stacy Parrish.

Refreshing, alive and full of soul. And they're even better live. With their debut, The Sultans have effectively smashed the myth that anybody can play the blues and that it's all the same. Not these blues, man, not these blues. !!!!

--Michael Henningsen

Next Week: Irie Still and Elephant

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