The hardcore racket that made the Brooklyn band's name is out. Five stripped-back tracks - actually recorded round a campfire - are in
No doubt you can think of some bands who talk a mouthy, swaggering game about their music, but when it comes to the crunch appear shit-scared of trying anything new. The Men, five Brooklyn-based fellows with an intentionally neutral name, are kind of the opposite. Throughout their four albums to date they’ve brought a few surprises to the party, but you’d never catch them crowing about it, possibly because their roots are in DIY punk. They’re pretty big on the sin of pride.
Having used this year’s ‘New Moon’ to confirm what 2012’s ‘Open Your Heart’ hinted at, these purveyors of fearful and exhilarating hardcore racket have spent their career so far turning their hand to fuzzy country and vintage-sounding ’80s/’90s alt.rock. ‘Campfire Songs’, however, strips The Men down to bare essentials. The five-song, 25-minute EP was taped while the band sat round (yes) a campfire, in between ‘New Moon’ takes. As such, its first two numbers are found in electric form on their parent album.
‘I Saw Her Face’ remains lumbering, despite being propelled by a mandolin in lieu of any rhythm section. Similarly, the earwormy hook of the title, as sung by Ben Greenberg, fails to shine through. But ‘The Seeds’ sounds pretty much exactly how you’d expect an acoustic demo of the song to sound. What’s being brought to the table here, guys?
Well, ‘Water Babies’, a non-album B-side infused with the upbeat clatter of Superchunk and the foggy groan of Dinosaur Jr, reinvents itself as clanging folk-rock, albeit by having all the punk sucked out of it. Last, but by no means least, come ‘Turn Your Color’ and ‘Patience’, two new Men tracks that take the band’s sound in a different direction and justify this whole campfire backstory. The former is six minutes of blissful, drone-addled psych-folk, while ‘Patience’ is the kind of all-hands-to-the-pump jam that stays just the right side of drunken collapse. Two properly good moments out of five isn’t a great ratio, but at least it’s telling us that The Men’s wagon is still rollin’ steady.