Inspired equally by Devo and Dick Dale, Man or Astro-Man? has always espoused a bizarre, Ventures-meet-the-Residents ethic. Yet on last year's EEVIAC: Operational Index & Reference Guide
, the band, which was formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1992, came up with sonic textures that sounded like 2001
's HAL reprogrammed for synthesizer and guitar. The group's latest record, the Steve Albini-produced A Spectrum of Infinite Scale
(the title makes it sound like a thesis), also features plenty of technical and highly constructed sounds. But unlike other bands that have introduced synthetic sounds, Man or Astro-Man? has no interest in replacing guitars, bass, and drums with machines. Even on a track such as "A Simple Text File," which is nothing more than the sound of a dot-matrix printer, the band manipulates the "music" into a human rhythm that transcends its bloodless origin. When the band actually rocks out, it's with passion and energy, and not the cool precision of musical engineers. Man or Astro-Man?, which recently decided to downplay the sci-fi mythology that it embraced early on, has always been more concerned with the humanity of its sound than the machinery it employs, and that's why it continues to be as fascinating in its execution as in its concept.