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Sunburned Hand of the Man Fire Escape Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

Folk-tinged improvisation from Keiran Hebden's favourite band...

Serena Kutchinsky 2007

First there was folktronica, then nu-folk and now there are all sorts of weird and wonderful sub genres ranging from trippy psyche-folk to punky anti-folk. Sunburned Hand Of The Man is one collective that refuse to fit neatly into any category, no matter how many musical venn diagrams the media draw around them. They’re not even technically a band – more an ever-changing line-up of artists and musicians united by their shared love of exploration and a slightly gospel-sounding search for the ‘ecstatic truth’.

Famed for their experimental, folk-infused ramblings, they have traditionally skirted the mainstream. But a collaboration with electronic maestro Kieren Hebden aka Four Tet has produced their most accessible album yet. Fire Escape is not exactly easy listening but has an engaging post-punk, Cabaret Voltaire feel that opens up their improvised world of noisy samples, heavy percussion, live jazzy drums and strange squelchy sounds.

Musical fanatic Hebden’s interest was first pricked four years ago by a piece in experimental bible, The Wire, referring to Sunburned as the leaders of ‘New Weird America’. A record-buying spree followed, then an invitation to bring their live improvisational styles on tour to counter his electronic creativity, and then finally last year they came to London to record his vision of a Sunburned album. Fire Escape, in all its paranoia-inducing madness, is that vision.

Compared with their last album, Z, this is a pop record. Created in four frenetic hours in Hebden’s studio, it became a labour of love for the jazz-influenced producer. Performed by ten members it moves from the bizarre to the beautiful with the traffic-like, bolshy drones of “Nice Butterfly Mask” bleeding into the ethereal loops and cymbal clatter of evocative tracks like “The Wind Has Ears”. “Parakeet Beat” launches off a percussive platform into a maelstrom of delay and distortion. The clubbiest of the album tracks, it’s been remixed by Norwegian dance master, Bjorn Torske.

Boredom Eye’s brain-bending artwork completes this surreal, creative package which is to be appreciated if not always enjoyed.

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