Sunburned Hand of the Man – Digital Breadcrumbs


Someone hands you two tabs of what they swear is LSD, daring you to try it just before a show starts. Thirty minutes later the world begins to fall apart as you stand at the altar of sound, where the Almighty begins to pull your soul from your body. The ancient and primal knowledge of sound is revealed to you. A continuous and chaotic energy sweeps through your disembodied spirit as distorted, distant guitars call out to you. Kneel before the omnipotent Godhead and accept your place in this universe. You are one of a countless order of pilgrims on this journey and by no means the first to gain this knowledge. The new Sunburned Hand of the Man album Digital Breadcrumbs is the tome documenting this journey.

A mainstay in the Boston (and/or wider Massachusetts) scene for literal decades, Sunburned Hand of the Man is what a jam band would be if the jam never ended. Instead of white versions of blues riffs and the finest recording equipment money can buy, it’s a droning wall of sound recorded onto a potato covered in magnetic tape. It’s free and wild in a way something like the dad rock of Phish never could be. On this latest release, they’ve invited artists such as the very talented Gary War to come play with them. War’s playing seems to really accentuate Sunburned Hand’s sonic chaos aesthetic as a whole.

The album is born in disorder, guitar riffs and grindcore screaming echo through an infinite void before reaching the listener’s headphones. The album remains drenched in reverb, sounding like listening to a show from just outside the venue with your ear to the door. Having distance from the sound does make it more of a trip, it disconnects you from the note by note playing of the music and puts your focus on the big picture of the song as a whole experience. Slowly, this chaos starts to feel comforting and it brings the listener into a realm far from this Earth.

The first half of the track feels like sitting in a circle with crust punks. There’s very little connection between the sludgy riffs, atmospheric drone, and seemingly random drums. Instead, all play what they wish with an anarchic sensibility, occasionally going off each other. It’s a strange freedom that recalls visions of anarchists living in abandoned buildings (and playing music).

Around the halfway point, the track swaps the atmospheric drone for what could be called conventionalality. They arrive at the point where a jam band begins to jam. There’s a warmth to the funk-influenced guitar that promises safety. The drums are that of a kindly jazz musician, soft hits creating a calm, or at least an order to the frenzy. Even the echo-y vocals come across as welcoming. There is nothing to fear now. There is only release, and we should just give in. It’s going to be okay. The godhead would like to speak to you now. Why don’t we listen?

For the last few minutes, the track rapidly builds in intensity as the listener ascends to the highest plane. There lies the knowledge we were promised. Synths hum, tempo increases, and the track takes on a punk rock flair that the whole album’s hinted at, but never truly tapped into. The intensity is perfect as the guitar and bass play perfectly off the drums. It can only be called sonic fury as it fades out with a squealing synthesizer overtaking all other instruments. True knowledge has been revealed. Accept this satori for what it is. Let it flow through you. The pilgrim’s journey has come to an end.

There’s something to the phrase, “different show every time”. Normally, that falls flat as the band members default to classic tracks when the audience appears lost, but it feels highly relevant here. Sunburned Hand of the Man will make a different album everytime. They’ll explore new realms and come back with a similar but new sound. This album is no exception, and in that way it is wonderful. Instead of being out of ideas after twenty years, Sunburned Hand is still going strong and this album is a shining example of that.

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