Man Man’s fifth album, On Oni Pond, boasts both a cleaner production style and more tightly constructed rhythms and melodies than the band’s previous, more down-and-dirty efforts. While those albums felt like a series of unpredictable improvisations, each track on On Oni Pond seems too-carefully constructed and fine-tuned. Man Man’s sound is still as identifiable as ever, all wailing horns and driving rhythms, like a New Orleans funeral procession, with all its contrasting feelings of joy and doom. The album’s refined production values, however, are unable to mask a creative complacency. Perhaps that’s why, along with being the most accessible Man Man album, it’s also their most glaringly stuffy and dull.
Where albums like Six Demon Bag and Rabbit Habits felt alive, with the band seeming ready to disassemble a song’s melody or structure at any moment, On Oni Pond plays it safe, the Man Man formula scrubbed clean of its dirty charm. “Pink Wonton” looks to create momentum out of staccato organ stabs and rolling drum lines, but ends up falling flat due to lead singer Honus Honus’s lazy vocal delivery and a lackluster hook, while “End Boss” is a wandering mess of marimba, synths, and chimes, a limp arrangement lacking an appreciable melody. The palm-muted guitars and group vocals of the tedious “Pyramids” contributes to an underwhelming piece of pseudo-funk, cheesy rather than affecting, where Honus Honus mumbles non sequiturs like, “I know just what you are/It’s not a bowl of ice cream.”
Elsewhere, “King Shiv” is an admirable bit of weirdness, a dark, dub-infected waltz that finds Honus Honus’s deep growl both sensuous and frightening. And the way the singer pushes his voice into higher registers alongside the bouncy keys and fuzzed-out synths of “Loot My Body” offers an urgency lacking from the rest of the album. But two standout tracks aren’t enough to buoy the rest of On Oni Pond, which stands as an outlier in the Man Man catalogue, not just because of its slicker production values, but because of its inability to create memorable, compelling moments. There’s a wealth of diverse instrumentation and sounds, from clarinets to mandolins to marimbas, on hand throughout, but the album is repetitive, often relying on too-similar arrangements. Each album in the band’s discography has benefitted from a sense of chaos, an always-looming and welcome threat that things could come unhinged at any moment. The uninspired and wearisome On Oni Pond never creates such tension.