With Helping Hand, the French duo of Man have created a ten track album that seemingly pulls little bits from all of their influences (everyone including Ennio Morricone to Eric Satie and Tortoise) together into a hugely varied album of murky electronic chamber pop. Although their third album definitely has a general overall feel, multi-instrumentalists François Rasim Biyikli and Charles-Eric Charrier seem to revel a bit in throwing a wrench into the mix sometimes, veering wildly off course for rather successful detours.
The first of these takes place in the very first song on the disc, as "You're In For It" opens with some almost spoken-word vocals before mutating into a downtempo, electronic cabaret lounge number. The track keeps going, though, and eventually bursts into a horn-laced French house inspired piece replete with samples of overzealous clubbers. After the somewhat crazy opening piece, the album settles down quite a bit, locking into more shadowy soundscapes as "Strange Feeling" mingles vibraphone and reverb-heavy guitar with a tinny bossa nova beat while the album titled "Helping Hand" takes pretty music box melodies and layers them over found sound and ultra-quiet melodica.
Unfortunately, the album also loses a bit of focus about halfway through, as the aptly titled "Drifting" stumbles along with some bass strums and feedback before locking in with a drum kit for about a minute halfway through. "Maiomie" is even less-focused, as a scattered mix of vocal samples, backwards loops and keyboard noodling stretches out for three minutes. Things pick up a great deal with "Separation," a long form piece that opens with plaintive piano melodies before building into noisy beast of a track that slowly falls away again afterwards.
Even though there's a bit of a quiet horn-backed burst at the end of "Farewell," the duo never quite rekindle the playful ways that they start the album out with. With the rest of the album largely creeping through a dark world of broken lounge and chamber musings, it often feels like the perfect soundtrack to some sort of black and white Noir film where all of the characters have questionable motives. The duo has done lots of soundtrack work over the course of the past several years, so that should come as no surprise. As an album, Helping Hand isn't always highly engaging, but it's full of night-soaked soundscapes, and it makes a nice backdrop to the dwindling hours in the day.