The Plot Thickens (Again): Man and Hammer

As I’m sure any return customers here have gathered, the impenetrable mysteries of folk/junk culture are a recurring theme here at FM DUST headquarters. What can I say? I like being baffled by recordings (as well as zines, art, film, etc…).  I’m rarely interested in second helpings of a record once I feel like I’ve gotten the gist. Perennials like Funhouse and Yip/Jump Music seem like exceptions, but they’re not: my personal favorites have received countless spins over the years because they are so rich and tangled that I can NEVER fully unravel their mysteries. Most other records, to my ears, are far more cut and dry, and thus of relatively little repeat interest (unless they’re by Link Wray or The Marathons, of course, in which case they get played constantly simply because they are the best music yet recorded).

There are some things, though, that I return to frequently not just because they’re mysterious for now, but because I will likely never even BEGIN to figure them out. I refer here to things with no context or jumping-off point. Vaguely-labeled cassettes, home-cut records, home movies… in the best cases, theirs is a mystery which can never be fully resolved, and are all the more rewarding for as much. A prime case of this is that of Man and Hammer.

*****

One day, some oddball in his late 40s or so came into Encore Records with a big box full of cassettes, almost all of which were homemade products of the 1980s home-taping boom. A rare bird, indeed, and certainly a welcome break from the tedium of flipping through peoples’ worthless Andy Williams LPs.

I prodded the seller for information regarding his treasure chest, but he couldn’t remember much: apparently, he was one of those guys who would pore over every issue of Factsheet Five, then proceed to order just about anything that looked interesting. He reminded me a lot of the minicomic guys with whom I spent my formative years, so I thought that mentioning my own involvement with that world might get him to pony up some stories from his time in this world of extreme underground nerdery.

No dice. This fella didn’t seem too keen at all to talk about his connection with the halcyon days of mail-trading. When I asked him if he’d ever made tapes himself, he mumbled something about a few comedy tapes with friends, none of which had seen the light of day. After that, I never saw him again.

Friendly and informative this encounter was not, but there were a lot of prizes in this guy’s collection. Longtime FM DUST followers will recall a reissue of Geoff Dugan’s 1988 debut cassette, Everything Is Water (DUST031)? Well, this is the guy who had that, not to mention the lion’s share of Dugan’s ‘80s catalog (gems all… I would share those here, too, except that I promised Dugan that I wouldn’t when he agreed to let me reissue Water…).

 

Of everything, though, Man and Hammer has proven the richest, deepest mystery. The internet is little help for research here: all I’ve learned is that there’s another band by the same name, which is definitely NOT the same band.

Sadly/exhilaratingly, the j-card included with the cassette offers precious little more: the cover is homemade, with a photo cut out of a newspaper of a man sitting by a woman in a casket, glued halfway over a faded abstract pattern, which is then glued to the blank tape’s original j-card. The tape’s hand-scrawled liner notes have a track listing, the functional title Recording #10+1, and a “copyright” date (1989). Most intriguingly, written towards the bottom is what looks like a catalog number, “JS-014”. Where are the thirteen preceding this, I wonder? Were there more after?

The plot thickens even further with the actual sounds on the tape, which goes the furthest in justifying my curiosity, not to mention bafflement. Man and Hammer, at least on this tape, traded in a brand of industrial throb which was somewhat anachronistic by 1989: most similar-sounding groups (Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Controlled Bleeding, plus more obscure projects like Storm Bugs and Z.O. Voider) had long since moved on from this sort of home-recorded hiss and gurgle, if they were active at all. One could, I suppose, suss out a resemblance to then-contemporary bands like German Shepherds or Happy Flowers as well, albeit less goofy and considerably rawer. There are even a few moments that recall a very primitive version of Negativland’s plunderphonic cluster-fucking, or certain moments of Smegma’s Nattering Nabobs of Negativity LP. Mostly, though, Recording 10+1 is Class of 1980 distortion, just a few years too late.

Not to say that that’s a bad thing. Actually, I think it’s great! Lots of bands that were ostensibly of this same order were trying to sound like Foetus or Ministry by 1989, and most of them kinda sucked. Any shards of truly damaged shit-fi sound, even those far afield from the initial explosion, are a rare treat, as far as I’m concerned. Recording #10+1 is indeed that, which would be plenty, but the fact that there’s no information on this tape anywhere, while supremely frustrating, is also what serves to make it even more satisfying. I trust I will be scratching my head and drooling in time with this mystery band’s thump and grind for years to come. I almost wouldn’t want to know anything more, lest such a rare pleasure be potentially denied*.

GET HAMMERED (DOWNLOAD)

 

*If anyone has any information, though, I absolutely want to hear it: queries@fmdust.com

Dustin Krcatovich is a cartoonist, writer, designer, founder of FM DUST, and a collector of certain curios and ephemera (with a focus on 20th century "junk culture"). His writing and illustration work appears frequently in The Quietus, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Esquire's Culture Blog. He is also a former editor and contributor to Secret Zen Garden,Saagara's illustrated mindfulness/wellness blog for young people. He currently resides in Portland, OR.

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