It's hard to tell how many people comprise the Somerville, Mass., organic, psychedelic noise-improv band Sunburned Hand of the Man. There's no "official lineup." The Hand have a few obvious features but take no definite shape.
Such is the nature of "improv" music. Every release is a "live record," and every performance is a self-contained unit. Certain riffs may recur. Certain motifs may cycle through. But there's no reason why a "proper" album should generate more interest than a particularly sizzling show in Oakland one night. It's hard to know when you're going to hit your peak, or when you just hit it. That's the thrill and the rub. That's what makes some noise-improv musicians put as much of their work "out there" (usually on limited-run CD-Rs) as they can, makes them create a quasi-permanent record of that one session in '03 that might someday turn out to be the best thing anyone's ever done, ever.
There are a lot of SHOTM records, none of them definitive. Some are cluttered and fussy. Some roll on a heavy mix of undulating tom-toms and low-end funk. Some are pure atmosphere. Some contain wild wailing or free-associative spoken-word. Live shows are similarly unpredictable. The players change. The crowds change. Different penguins fall off different icebergs. Sometimes it's all nerve and no muscle, or all muscle and no heart. Sometimes it's an exquisitely soothing, potentially transformative racket. Either way, there's not going to be anyone on the front row mouthing the lyrics. And the band won't be taking requests.
If you're new to this sort of thing and you've got high hopes for it, Sunburned Hand of the Man, as one of the most genuinely inventive and heterodox noise-improv bands around, are a fine band with which to initiate yourself. --Emerson Dameron
Sunburned Hand of the Man share the stage with Gown on Wed. March 21 at the Village Tavern (1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., 884-6311). 9 p.m. $6. See www.sunburnedhandoftheman.com and
www.village-tavern.com for more.