The Brooklynites take a gentle turn from their punk roots to draw on a host of new influences, but still rock like muthas
There’s been no shortage of bands with DIY punk and hardcore roots gaining overground approval in recent years. Iceage, Fucked Up, Trash Talk, Pissed Jeans and our subjects for today, Brooklyn quintet The Men: it’s encouraging that most of them still sound broadly the same – and just as abrasive – as they did when they were way below the water. ‘New Moon’, The Men’s fourth album, is the sore-thumb exception.
Take the songs ‘LADOCH’, from 2011 breakthrough-ish full-length ‘Leave Home’, and ‘Open The Door’, the first track off ‘New Moon’. They are separated by about two years. In this time, The Men have progressed from the former, which sounds like a Roman death match between Black Flag and Swans, to the latter, a barely alt.country song on which you can practically hear the brown cord trousers and definitely hear the mandolin. There have been more polite album openers in recent times, but not (and here’s the curveball!) on an album that rocks like a mother.
This rocking frequently leans more towards country than punk, although it does sometimes straddle both planes. ‘Half Angel Half Light’, which follows ‘Open The Door’ and really should have opened the album, powers along on clanging barroom piano. ‘The Seeds’, an orthodox country-rock strumalong with all instruments straining into the red, is about that very specific fear of the NYC indie musician – one’s other half upping sticks and pulling away the financial crutch (“She’s the one with the money/She’s the one with the key”, sings Mark Perro). ‘Bird Song’ appears chest-burstingly proud to feature lap steel, harmonica and a fadeout: these birds are singing because they’ve nested in The Men’s giant 1970s indulgo-rock beards.
Ultimately, though, you suspect these guys’ personal definition of ‘classic rock’ is found in Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s enduring study of the pre-‘Nevermind’ US punk underbelly. Sometimes, ‘New Moon’ almost feels like a chapter-by-chapter soundtrack. As well as The Replacements, whose punk-into-country alchemy looms over much of this record, the lurking presence of Hüsker Dü bubbles to the surface on ‘I See No One’. ‘Freaky’, meanwhile, is a marriage of chipper melody and earwax-dislodging distortion that hints at on-form Dinosaur Jr. ‘Without A Face’ manages to sound metronomic and party-dude triumphant at once – think Boston genii Mission Of Burma.
There are loveable homages and cringeworthy ones, and The Men have established a knack for the former. Their keenness on Sonic Youth was first expressed on ‘Bataille’ from ‘Leave Home’, and it returns for ‘Electric’, a spiky and sassy belter. The place where the anthemic, the noisy and the epic meet is where The Men sound most naturally positioned.
This isn’t a cheerful album exactly: the lyrics are softly romantic, boozily philosophical and (deliberately?) uncredited. It sounds like The Men had a ball recording it though. Guitarist Nick Chiericozzi contributes some evocative sleevenotes describing the recording of the slow-building fuzzfest of ‘I Saw Her Face’, but even without them, you can visualise the chaps as they lose themselves in the racket. And they’re never more rackety than on ‘Supermoon’, the album closer and sincerely thrilling Stooges-y thug-psych jam. Feedback yowling pretty much perpetually across its seven minutes, it concludes with five seconds of discussion on how that take went, as do a few other songs on this album. At a guess, this is The Men saying that despite the increased breadth of influences, they’re still treating imperfection and spontaneity as a virtue, and are still gosh-darn punks to boot.