Every so often, a band gets hailed as the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll—beer-guzzling guitar bashers who bring reprieve from an indie scene muddled with laptops, samplers, and smart haircuts. It happened with The Hold Steady around 2006 and before that with The White Stripes and The Strokes. It’s a silly gimmick created by bored music journalists because guitar music is in fact not dead, nor was it ever, but it happens every few years all the same. Are Brooklyn’s The Men the next to inherit that ultimately meaningless title? Probably not. Because while Open Your Heart is the kind of unabashed, ballbusting rock ‘n’ roll record that’ll have bloggers chomping at the bit—and it should—it is just odd enough for people to not know what to do with it.
For one, nearly half of its tracks are wordless instrumentals, or close to. This lets the instruments and musicianship stand out in a way that most bands rarely allow. “Country Song” is a spaced-out, twangy groove that ambles along with slide guitars, creating an atmosphere that definitely has a sorrowful country vibe but with maybe a little acid mixed in. It’s a structured song that could easily have lyrics, but their absence isn’t bothersome. Similarly, “Oscillation”, a seven-minute-plus guitar jam that recalls Dinosaur Jr. and the poppier side of Sonic Youth, and “Presence”, a droning tribute to ’70s glam punk, sound complete with little to no vocals.
And when they do sing, guitarists and singers Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi go for a minimalist approach. Vocals mix in, like they do on the shotgun blast of an opener “Turn Around”, as opposed to standing out. The lyrics are simple and sparse, used to convey and compliment the emotion blasting from the amplifiers. Screaming “I am the animal” and begging for blood on “Animal” is the kind of visceral line that makes sense over the blown-out, Chuck-Berry-on-steroids progressions. For The Men, it’s about packing a punch, not telling a story, and there are few things that pack a better punch than a cranked-up electric guitar.
“Candy” is the record’s most lyrical moment, and with its acoustic guitars, it’s the most out of place one as well. But its drunken lyrics about quitting your job and staying out all night have the feel of The Stones’ country numbers like “Dead Flowers”; on a record that is clearly a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll, that actually makes a hell of a lot of sense. On that song, the band sings, “When I hear the radio play, I don’t care that it’s not me.” This is essentially the ethos of this record and likely that of the band as a whole. Playing this type of music isn’t the most popular thing you can do as a band in Brooklyn, and this seems to be of little concern to them. Just as you hear Deer Tick talk about being totally uninterested with what is going on in the music industry around them, Open Your Heart gives you the strong feeling that The Men feel the exact same way.
As a rock music fan, you can hear many of your favorite guitar bands’ influences on Open—T. Rex and Thin Lizzy, for example—and while they are both honored and toyed with, they are nearly always done justice. The Men may not be hailed as the genre’s saviors, nor should they be, but here they have done an excellent job as its purveyors.
Essential Tracks: “Turn Around”, “Candy”, and “Oscillation”