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Sean Noonan
Man No Longer Me Richard Foster , January 24th, 2018 08:17

Intense, daft, tricksy, virtuoso, addictive: an absolute trip from a “modern-day sonic griot”

Sean Noonan, of New York City, is an intense chap. It says as much in his blog, natch. “Drummer/composer Sean Noonan is a modern-day sonic griot gathering stories, legends, and folklore as a punk-jazz Alan Lomax.” So far so groovy and knowing. I’ve seen him play live a few times - most memorably when he tamed a fetid and smoky room full of anarchist German punks and farmers, breaking them down into a muttering silence, making them accept his eccentricities. On that occasion he wore a boxing cape and shorts and sang songs about being chased down mineshafts by an underground race of people. And yes it was weird. But we should not underestimate the spiritual nature of his work. He means it; it’s not artifice, rather the punk-jazz-novelty pop serves as both a release and justification for his cosmic utterances.

This new record, Man No Longer Me, is primetime Sean Noonan. The sound of an artist in his imperial phase. It’s fair to say, though, that the listener has to contend with a lot throughout Man No Longer Me. All at once. We get strange, sickly Zappanation odes to cats running away in search of new girlfriends, Morrison-esque epics based around fighting modern industrialisation, and pineapples used as a metaphor for love (more of that later). Key changes and weird choirs. Lyrics that are barked out and savoured for their gnomic quality: “I was a growing man, a growing man no plan / So I closed my eyes and held my breath / Dove head on into a pool of ketchup / Taking me to the future of my life.” Goodness. I can easily imagine Noonan as a sort of preacher, throwing out phrases that suggest action, creating an imaginary universe for his flock. In that way he’s both an artist of our times and a reminder that there is a long and noble American tradition of daft jazzy novelty pop that embraces both the first settlers’ puritan roots and the likes George Clinton, Leonard Nimoy, Johnny Richman and Spike Jones. Spiritualist and snazzy American nonsense. America’s Pilgrim Fathers, if only they’d toked at the ’erb. The playing on Man No Longer Me is really something else at times. Extraordinary in fact. Elastic and broadminded enough to embrace Noonan’s restless personality and ‘emotive’ approach to playing drums.

There are some truly brilliant, winning pieces of music, too. ‘Man vs Machine’ is a tough song about an All-Americuhn hero, John Henry. Refreshingly (given the subject matter) it is borne aloft by a delicate ripple of keys which lend a gentle, jazzy air to the clatter and bang: it’s Vince Guaraldi dossing about on an old leccy joanna with Herbie Hancock. Then there is ‘Eat My Makeup’, a gloriously minimalist subversion of a simple groove. Noonan snaffles the Camille Yarbrough ‘Praise You’ riff that Fatboy Slim used and makes something much better, much less plodding and laddish. Listening to such a brilliant exercise in constrained trickiness we can see Noonan as the mystical and musical heir to the great Armand Schaubroeck. It gets a bit like side two of White Noise at one point, which is of course, a glorious thing. Then there is the upbeat strut of ‘Not I’, which initially promises to be a genuine pop hit - the transition from winning Czukay-esque pop to some sort of 21st-century pop spaghetti burn-up (via a very winsome soliloquy) is typical of this record. It revels in a good old volte face as regards mood, tone and temper.

All this virtuosity somehow leavens out Noonan’s vision, which, as intimated earlier, could do mischief if left alone in a room. A good example is ‘Cupid’s Packin Heat’. This track is as close as Magma and Parliament as you’re going to get. Backed by 70s choir lines that draw on Magma and Star Trek in equal measure, the thing descends into a bedroom funkathon par excellence. The Star Trek bit is heightened amidships when the whole thing breaks down into some mad chamber orchestra that then goes jazz fusion with any instrument to hand. It’s horribly, horribly addictive. As is ‘I Am Your Pineapple’: using the lyric “I am your pineapple” to elucidate one’s feelings of love for another takes a certain amount of front. Luckily the track is a lounge bar frisson of the highest technical calibre. It then bursts its banks and heads off into another direction (courtesy of some rawk geetar), which is, of course, entirely fitting.

It’s not all daft Haribo-laden fun, mind. ‘Man No Longer Me’ is a key song here, showcasing (or soundtracking) the increasingly binary nature of the modern world, a gritty paean to getting through the day. Here, his sound reminds me of long lost much missed Scottish absurdist pop band Super Adventure Club - a steroidal, spray-painted version of Richard Dawson maybe. ‘The Vile Stuff’ as Spike Jones would have done it. There’s a queasy surreality there too, as well as in ‘He Skarbnik He’ - a darkly bonkers soliloquy that is essentially apocalyptic. The strings making the whole thing like some metalheads’ take on Michael Nyman. Noonan, man, this music could be soundtracking the 1650s.

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