Graded on a Curve:
Man Forever,
Play What They Want

John Colpitts, aka Kid Millions, first emerged on the scene back in the 1990s as a member of Oneida, but more recently he’s been steppin’ out as the leader of Man Forever. His project’s latest features guest contributions from Mary Lattimore, Yo La Tengo, Laurie Anderson, and others, these additions enlarging the music’s already sizeable template without sacrificing the constant rhythmic thread in Colpitts’ work. The result is a major statement, and one as approachably expansive as its jacket photo is suave. Play What They Want is out now on LP, CD and digital via Thrill Jockey.

The solo career, at least in pop-rock terms, usually represents a sustained iris-in on a performer theretofore largely considered as a member of a group. Other musicians frequently assist in these intensified spotlights, but the scenarios generally work best when the artists with their name on the sleeve don’t get lost in a shuffle of personalities. Or to put it another way; “all-star” situations rarely deliver on the promise they portend.

As part of Oneida, John Colpitts comes from a rock background, though said outfit helps to shape his evolving experimental reality, and up to this point Man Forever has connected not as a move into the “solo” sphere but rather as one chapter in a book documenting seemingly constant activity; alongside Oneida and Man Forever, Colpitts’ most prominent gigs have been People of the North (with his Oneida bandmate Bobby Matador) and the Fox Millions Duo (with Greg Fox of Guardian Alien).

Collaboration is clearly key to the guy’s artistic thrust, but partially through a prestigious credits list, this new album initially connects as something of a departure from what’s came before. Specifically, Play What They Want registers as an undisguised attempt to reach a wider audience, and yet the contents remain true to the title; the set is concise, the experimentalism is accessible, but nothing is diluted.

Importantly, the contributors aren’t just high-profile but are, to put it mildly, high-caliber; harpist Mary Lattimore is one of the contemporary scene’s most engaging experimentalists, fellow harpist Brandee Younger has productively straddled the worlds of jazz and pop, guitarist Phil Manley helped to establish the parameters of post-rock in Trans Am (and has previously teamed with Colpitts in Man Coach Life Forever), Yo La Tengo is indie rock royalty, and Laurie Anderson is a defining figure in the history of avant-pop.

However, it’s the less well-known names that really give Play What They Want its backbone, starting with the role of TIGUE Percussion (that’s Matt Evans, Amy Garapic, and Carson Moody) in creating the disc’s drum arrangements. There’s also the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble (featuring Elizabeth Pearse, Kayleigh Butcher, Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, and Carrie Henneman Shaw), vocalist Nick Hallett, bassist Brandon Lopez, pianist Sam Yulsman, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Lanz (of Beirut, and a contributor to records by The National and Sufjan Stevens).

Opener “You Were Never Here” brings the impressiveness of TIGUE’s arrangements immediately to the fore, with the emphasis on a danceable groove as Lopez adds meaty texture on upright bass. Rhythm has never been in short supply with Man Forever, but Ryonen, 2014’s collab with Sō Percussion, exuded a tangible prog angle across two long cuts. Here, as the voices of Yo La Tengo glide into the mix, they provide poppish counterpoint to the complex momentum of the drums.

And then a redirect into fine-tuned abstraction; Yulsman enters with a free jazz note flurry, becoming more melodious in short order, and is quickly followed by the dual harps in tandem with the soprano power of Quince. As the rhythmic forward motion is reasserted, the feel is nearly techno-tribal as the choral component injects a 20th Century classical flavor and the harps do their celestial thing. Perhaps due to its segmented nature, the nearly nine minutes of “You Were Never Here” feels much shorter.

“Ten Thousand Things” offers a vocal by Colpitts and Hallett combined with compound rhythms and gongs reminiscent of gamelan music; Lattimore’s presence deepens the unforced vibe of the exotic. From there, Play What They Want makes its biggest move into pop territory, though “Debt and Greed” runs on a Krautrock engine fueled by Manley’s guitar, Lanz’s trombone, and Colpitts’ biting lyrics. It’s downright lovely as it crescendos, and it fades out far too quickly.

Side two begins with “Twin Torches,” its nearly ten-minute duration providing the LP with its highpoint, in large part due to Anderson’s string-scrape violin and calm yet assured spoken vocals. Deserving of special mention is the wordless singing of Quince, at the forefront at the start of the piece and then lower, but no less effective, in the mix as the cut develops.

Colpitts’ presence could’ve easily gotten overtaken by “Twin Torches,” but the drumming is never not felt, and that’s indicative of the album’s success. Just as sweet is the percussive energy and vocal drift that shapes closer “Catenary Smile.” As it progresses, the voices, including Hallett’s deft background work, become more atmospheric amid the forcefulness, and the track culminates with a spacy flourish.

In attaining this plateau, Play What They Want gives off nary a hint of maxed-out potential; it’s a superb record, but also an unstrained achievement, meaning the best for Colpitts and Man Forever might be yet to come.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text