Drums have always been the focal point of Kid Millions' Man Forever project, whose first two albums were 35-minute barrages of mind-scrambling percussive torrents accentuated only by skin-crawling bass guitar, and with the pause to flip the record over being the only opportunity for breath. Since signing to Thrill Jockey in 2012, the group's recordings have become more nuanced and hypnotic, and 2014's Ryonen (in collaboration with So Percussion) introduced vocals to the sonic palette. With 2017's Play What They Want, Man Forever have practically written a pop album -- albeit a pop album more heavily informed by the histories of free jazz, avant-garde, and contemporary classical music than Top 40 radio. Millions is joined by several guests on this album, with Trans Am guitarist Phil Manley and Brooklyn-based percussion trio TIGUE playing significant roles and co-writing the songs. The arrangements are nowhere near as dense and overwhelming as on the earlier Man Forever albums, and there's a greater presence of instruments that aren't drums. Instead of massive, chaotic walls of noise, all of the instruments are given room to breathe, and they all seem in harmony with each other. The drummers explore polyrhythms, often seeming to pull away from each other into different patterns, yet everything still seems locked in place. In addition to the all-powerful drums, vocals play a major role on this album. Millions sings on most songs, and two of them feature choral arrangements by the Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. Opening song "You Were Never Here" also features harmonies by the always welcome Yo La Tengo, as well as a lush, colorful arrangement featuring harpists Brandee Younger and Mary Lattimore. "Ten Thousand Things" is perhaps the most percussion-focused piece on the album, with a knotty rhythm and vocals heavily inspired by Moondog. "Debt and Greed" is more playful, and its lyrics and vocal melodies beg to be sung by David Byrne. "Twin Torches" is a bit closer to the contemporary classical realm, beginning with fragile vocals by Quince and featuring a dark, ruminative vocal performance by Laurie Anderson (who also plays violin and keyboard on the piece). Play What They Want is a powerful, necessary expansion of Man Forever's vision, and easily their most engaging work.
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AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson