This piece was originally published in The Cauldron (2008)
Now Hear This!
Music you may have missed
By Jonathan ‘Killstring’ Herzberger
The Cauldron Staff Writer
When I was young, there were a plethora of adventure movies that all began with a similar premise: a lone inquisitive child interacted with some deus ex machina plot device that transported them to another time/place/dimension, wherein they had magical adventures, and learned valuable lessons about believing in yourself, etc. These films were awesome.
Around the same time, Arcades had not quite been replaced by the Playstations and Xboxes of the world, and many a precocious youth would line up for the privilege of plunking their quarters into the massive upright cabinets of yore. These arcades were also, in their own rights, awesome.
However, the year is 2008 – and the adventures of my youth have been relegated to the realms of nostalgia, the films and arcade both forgotten relics of a bygone era. Enter the Arlington TX Indie Pop band, Man Factory. A quirky little unsigned group whose catalog had consisted mostly of poorly recorded, uninspired and disjointed singles, singer/guitarist Tyler White and keyboardist Austin Sevener had a brainstorm one night. Why not combine the nostalgia of childhood adventure films with the arcade games they grew up on? While we’re here, why not make an ambitious 3-album Rock Opera with no record label or financial support to speak of?
Apparently, they couldn’t think of compelling reasons not to, and we get to reap the rewards. Street Fight: Round One is available for free in its entirety at myspace.com/manfactory, and the improbable proposition of a Rock Opera based on the classic 1v1 fighting video game Street Fighter II is… well…good. Rather good, in fact. The concept album finds the band in significantly tighter focus than their previous efforts, and White’s deadpan falsetto comes through strong and clear, evoking comparisons to John Sampson (Propagahndi, The Weakerthans) and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) without wading into derivative waters. Fellow vocalist Toni provides a softened contrast, staying comfortably within a moderate range. On the whole, the band blends guitar-driven bombast somewhere between Weezer and The Who with analog synth leads that might as well have been ripped clean from the video games that inspired the tale.
Starting off with “Night at the arcade”, the Factory tells the tale of a haunted arcade machine, ripping a poor young girl through space and time – and the earnestness with which they deliver such a far-fetched premise against the Rocky-esque main theme does wonders for the material, replete with faux horn section, dueling harmonized guitar solo, and appropriately epic build. In “Chun Li, Outside” Toni takes center stage, bringing a relatable determination to this inherently goofy revenge tale, segueing seamlessly into “Chun Li, I’m Lovin’ it” – which gleefully contrasts synthesized pan pipes with lyrics like “Bison’s Mean, Bison’s Bad, Bison fought and killed your Dad” – although it does come apart a bit towards the end, when the band tries to blend in original soundtrack from the game, and it feels a tad forced. “Where is Ryu?” and “E. Honda’s concern” continue the wink/nudge seriousness, and “Good Grief, Zangief!” branches out into eastern European folk music, before culminating in an 80’s TV theme-style power pop chorus – but the real star of this show would be “Balrog, 24/7,” in which White gleefully does his best Justin Timberlake, slinking through a slick R&B gem long on charm, and with sass to spare. And therein lies the beauty of Round One – it’s an inside joke, sure, but one that invites everyone to be a part of it. The record is disarmingly sincere in its childlike joy, and it’s 100% free.