About a week ago, The Men posted a blog entry titled “Suck My Vibe” that consisted of two images: the cover of Neil Young’s famed Chrome Dreams bootleg and the photo from Dolly Parton’s 1972 collection, The World of Dolly Parton. The post isn’t snarky. It isn’t ironic. It isn’t meant to be a joke. It’s simply a proud declaration of where The Men are right now with their music. Never shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves, the Brooklyn quintet has moved past homages to hardcore acts, ’70s punk, and Sonic Youth, opting for their own jagged version of country-infused AOR. It’s a trend that first reared its head last year on Open Your Heart with the cowpoke drone of “Country Song”, and now comes full circle with New Moon.
That’s not to say that The Men have gotten soft or gone full-on dad rock (although they probably wouldn’t sneeze at that title, if only to piss off the indie blogosphere). After all, Dolly Parton’s always been a renegade in her own right, and what’s more bird-flipping to the hardcore community than kicking off the record with “Open the Door”, a pastoral lull that would fit in snugly on any of her albums? Likewise, Neil Young’s lost none of his edge, and he deserves some credit for New Moon‘s centerpiece, “I Saw Her Face”, which sees the band finding their inner Crazy Horse, at least for half of the song. The Western distortion of Nick Chiericozzi’s and Mark Perro’s guitars lumber and lumber, then lumber some more, before surrendering to a drumroll from Rich Samis that sends the whole thing into a stagecoach chase around a rickety cliff. Lines like “In the middle of a dream / I saw her face / Somewhere in between / Being asleep and awake” conjure the fever dream romance of “Cowgirl in the Sand”.
Sure, we could talk about Ben Greebnberg’s cowboy Warren Zevon vocals on “Half Angel, Half Light”, or Kevin Faulkner summoning George Harrison’s slide work with “High and Lonesome”. Having three singers with distinct yet discreet voices recalls a grimed-out version of The Band. And is it me, or does that album artwork look like a more rustic version of Todd Rundgren’s Something / Anything? But enough with the classic-rock comparisons. These homages are fun, and are a large part of who The Men are. But it’s their sonic revisions — their muscular shifts — that give the band their identity and keep them from becoming a throwback act: the gear change on “I Saw Her Face”, the triple fuzz bomb of Side Two kickoff “The Brass”, the aptly titled “Electric”, and “I See No One”, which settles nicely into the boxcar harmonica of “Bird Song”.
More and more, vinyl is returning to a place of prominence for indie bands, and New Moon shows that it’s not just for sentimentality’s sake; it forces musicians to think in terms of sides. It’s the approach one would take to a novel, play, or film, a consideration of how to build a piece of art with the most compelling peaks and valleys. As a result, New Moon is a tumbleweed that forms in a Texas desert, rolls across a quiet Midwestern prairie, disappears into the Appalachian mountains, then crashes down into blood-soaked Georgia farmland.
“Supermoon”, the album’s sacrificial climax, drives home this philosophy of constant mutation. Gradually stacking itself with a duel of speedball solos and smoke-spewing organ strung together by ritualistic chants, the album closer transports the band to a darkening cornfield, spurring them to howl at the moon until it turns orange. “I was a phoenix in a past life,” bellows Perro. “Looking for fire, but discovering ice / Hey faith, what are you gonna’ do? / I saw your power and I’m coming for you.” The song’s lycanthropic momentum shows how The Men have been able to retain a steady audience of hardcore and punk fans despite growing more accessible with each release. Sacrificing recklessness is different from sacrificing passion, and New Moon cements The Men as one of the most exciting rock acts today, no matter who they’re listening to or, most importantly, who they’re redefining.
Essential Tracks: “I Saw Her Face”, “The Brass”, and “Supermoon”
Feature artwork by Justin Hopkins: