Review: The Men – ‘New Moon’

newmoonGenre is a term that doesn’t hold much meaning for a band like The Men.

After weaving subtle psychedelic nuance through thick layers of lo-fi thrash and brute-force sludge on 2010’s ‘Immaculada‘ and 2011’s ‘Leave Home‘, these unassuming New York lifers pushed their experimental post-hardcore template past the concept of classification with last year’s critically-acclaimed breakthrough ‘Open Your Heart‘.

Their third record in as many years was a lesson in genre-defying ambition, as it somehow managed to synthesize the last four decades of guitar music into one solid statement.  Shoegaze, punk, garage, alternative, indie, and straight-up classic rock all shared the spotlight, while still leaving room for a few brushes with barroom country honk.

With this year’s ‘New Moon‘, The Men have continued along their own ever-evolving path, this time careening further away from their basement noise beginnings and heading more and more towards full-blown hillbilly Americana. The immediate touchstones are no longer the muscular swirl of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., but instead the countrified distortion of Neil Young & Crazy Horse and the heartland freedom rock of latter-day Tom Petty.  Acoustic, lap steel, mandolin, harmonica, and piano are each just as prevalent as electric guitar, and the screams, shouts and pleads of previous efforts are replaced with easy-amble melodies, sober meditations, and four-part vocal harmonies.

The old-timey saloon sway of the introductory ‘Open The Door‘ couldn’t be a more divergent departure from the slow-burn fizz that began ‘Leave Home’ or the balls-to-the-wall bombast that kick-started ‘Open Your Heart’. Yet it is as an instant and enjoyable declaration of purpose for an album that includes jangly ballads (‘The Seeds‘), rollicky cowboy drinking ditties (‘Bird Song‘) and a slide guitar instrumental that could easily soundtrack a tumbleweed Western (‘High & Lonesome‘).

Not to say this is all one big passed-out-in-the-back-of-a-wagon affair.  ‘I Saw Her Face‘ may start off as a blown-out ‘Rust Never Sleeps‘ tribute, but it eventually explodes into a collage of double-time drumming and squealing solos, while ‘Electric‘ is the sort of soaring, pavement-pounding anthem that these guys could probably write in their sleep by now.  Then there is the closing ‘Supermoon‘; an eight-minute stoner rock behemoth whose raucous improvised theatrics and creepy ritualistic chants sound worlds removed from the humble hayseed musings that lead off the album.

Recorded in the upstate solitude of the Catskill Mountains, ‘New Moon’ is the first outing to feature producer Ben Greenberg as an official member, and he splits the vocal duties here along with guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi. While their understated and sometimes interchangeable styles serve to reinforce the overall everyman aesthetic, the only real knock is that it’s hard not to wonder where they could go with a single magnetic frontman corralling all the wild songwriting ideas into a distinct perspective.

Then again, this blatant disregard for natural convention has been the hallmark of The Men’s career so far, and on ‘New Moon’ they have simply learned how to properly play up that strength.  Abrupt endings, odd song sequencing, deliberately left-in studio banter – all of it expertly underscores the whole just-us-five-dudes-jamming-out-in-a-cabin vibe that ultimately makes this record as strong as it is.

Throw in the fact that this is the fourth album in four years, and that they reportedly have another in the can already, and it just further illustrates why The Men are one of the more interesting rock bands we have going today.

(Beau De Lang)

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