Sunburned Hand of the Man are a loose Boston-based collective whose work has sprawled across multiple genres, including free improv, noise, folk, drone, and psychedelic jams. Founded in 1997 out of the ashes of art-rock trio Shit Spangled Banner, they became part of a scene that specialized in indulgence and reveled in long builds, endless permutation, improvisation, and minimalism that could get pretty damn maximal at the drop of a hat (or the stomp of a pedal). In the late 2000s, Sunburned Hand of the Man’s output slowed to a handful of cassettes and DIY recordings, but in 2019 they resurfaced with their first proper LP in about a decade, Headless.
Their brand-new album, Pick a Day to Die, is remarkable, and not just because it’s a true studio album from a band that’s more likely to record live (the recent Live Burn 6 was recorded live in London in 2004 and 2006). The rolling trance build of the title track wouldn’t feel out of place on a record by Can or even Stereolab, except it’s delivered with lyrics and vocals that might’ve come from an artistically evolved Hasil Adkins. I’d almost forgotten how much I missed this group’s reliable unpredictability—the sense that it’s all about to go off the rails at any moment, but never quite does, or at least never does in an unsatisfying way. While much of the album has a somber quality, its ferocious jams boil over with playful, uninhibited joy; they’re grounded in garage rock and the kind of psychedelic rock enjoyed by hippie bikers who might protect their pot patch with land mines. “Flex” is more mellow, with a spacey 70s swagger, sweet keyboards, and a coy groove that makes it feel like bachelor-pad music for people who enjoy taking psychedelic trips on the Autobahn in their heads. Pick a Day to Die unfolds its rich variety with nearly perfect pacing: the slinky, insinuating slow burn of “Solved” has a smoldering Iggy Pop vibe, while the raunchy but celestial “Prix Fixe” elevates its space-caveman psych with beautiful lead guitar from guest star J. Mascis. Every one of us will have our day to die, but until then, this record can give us life. v