Man

Helping Hand

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    7
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Three years after Main Gauche came Helping Hand, this one released by the Belgian experimental label Sub Rosa. Main Gauche was going to be hard to beat and, unsurprisingly (and therefore with only a slight bit of disappointment), this third opus stumbles back a few steps. It seems that François Biyikli and Charles-Eric Charrier consciously opted for a reshuffle of what made their previous album so endearing. The results are disconcerting, albeit recognizable as Man. That said, one must completely forget about the opening track, "You're in for It," an unexpected -- and uncalled for -- dance number that will have you stop the CD player and take the disc out to make sure you didn't put in something else by mistake. Funnily enough, it's when "Strange Feeling" starts that a feeling of relief arrives: this is Man after all. The title track, "Drifting," and "Separation" all have that distinctive not-quite-post-rock sound, with trickling piano melodies, delicate acoustic guitar parts, toys, melodica, and carefully selected odd noises. Yet, this time around, the pieces remain colder, more abstract, less engaging. It may be that there are too many ideas crammed into each track. It may be that the duo tried something different without going far enough, only managing to thwart the recipe. Helping Hand is not a bad album -- far from it -- and the ten-minute "8mm" serves up a striking audio film (with plenty of dialogue samples, strings and all) that is on par with the group's best material. Still, you might want to get Main Gauche first.

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