The guitar of folk hero Woody Guthrie carried a warning that read, "This machine kills fascists," and, for the most part, that statement was true. But the power of Guthrie's music came from a combination of his songs and that guitar, just as the Stratocaster hanging from the neck of Man of the Year frontman Tod Morrisey would be just a Strat if it weren't for Morrisey's melodic squalls and fuzzed-out fusillades. If he were to take a page from Guthrie, his guitar might read "This machine kills boredom."
Rock wouldn't be rock without the guitar solo, and Man of the Year is one Portland band that believes in it. That belief has served it well. The four-piece debuted with The Future Is Not Now back in 2000, battering around even the most timid crowds and climbing the far-flung college-radio charts.
This Saturday, the band will celebrate the release of its sophomore LP, A New and Greater Tokyo. The Future may have had an arena-sized scope, but Tokyo's smart songwriting and sheer momentum show The Future to be nothing more than an impressive warm-up.
"I felt like, during the first record, I had lost my ability to play guitar," Morrisey told WW while eating a hot dog downtown. "I had my eye on a guitar for a couple years that I finally found. This is the guitar that made me want to play lead guitar again: a '76 Stratocaster. I sold everything I had."
Morrisey's guitar slinging manages to be tasteful, artful and fist-in-the-air rockin' throughout the new album. The big guitar moments of a song like "Mucho Macho" are epic (think Blur's Graham Coxon with more volume and melody), reinforcing rather than overpowering Man of the Year's indie-pop anthems.
It's ballsy for a band to bust out axe chops in a time when string-breaking, note-bending guitar solos are as scoffed at as only being able to name one member of the Velvet Underground. To actually pull it off and lend some emotional weight to those moments, as Man of the Year has done, is even more impressive.
Tokyo is interesting because it features an optimistic kind of fatalism. "Sit back and unwind to the stereo," Morrisey sings in the hangover waltz "These Wings (a+b)" while the keyboard hook tears a hole in your heart. The song, like the record, is preoccupied with the sentiment that most things in life are completely haphazard, confusing and complicated.
Things might spiral out of control. But A New and Greater Tokyo insists that sometimes, if your luck holds and the strings don't break during the feedback crescendo, things will also fall into place as well.
All this makes for what Morrisey hopes will be an "emotional ride."
If he means an emotional ride straight into some weightless orbit, he might just have gotten what he hoped for.
Man of the Year celebrates the release of its album Saturday, Aug. 28, with Ma Ford and Young & Sexy at Dante's, 1 SW 3rd Ave., 226-6630. 10 pm. $6. 21+.