At this point, record store clerks, Last.fm taggers, and music journalists are running out of genres to umbrella these guys, or should I say men, (just kill me now) under. Brooklyn-based noise rock group The Men have made a speedy return, following their darling punk homage 2012 record Open Your Heart with a continued level of artistic evolution on their 4th LP: New Moon.
With a deft reputation in experimenting with post-hardcore, post-punk, shoegaze and psychedelic rock, The Men reel in a new influence on New Moon: country music. But this isn’t a ‘throw-in-a-banjo, mess-around-with-twangy-singing’ ordeal; The Men dedicate nearly the entire front half of New Moon to a sprawling array of country/folk based love songs that sound like they just got their hands on a copy of Wilco‘s Being There. Featuring various flavors of piano, cleaner vocals and sloppier playing, the style offers The Men tremendous space to venture out and explore their musicianship on various dimensions, more so than the fluid shift from punk to psych rock we’ve seen on past records. Tracks like the drunken, yet well-written “The Seeds” or the stylistic shocking opener “Open the Door” seize the opportunity to redefine themselves, and successfully, I may add. While their creative audacity holds neither shame or self-reproach, these country-rock experimentations miss the sweet spot to grow into something memorable or profound. One could try and reason with themselves to approve of these tracks, but why, when you get to the half-point mark, “The Brass”.
As if someone switched on bright lights in a dim room, The Men suddenly come alive, enticing all the rowdy routines long-time fans associate with their highlight songs. Everything’s fuzzed out and played with the kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants urgency one might anticipate from such fervent performers; even the pianos in the background are played with the high speed of somebody intent on destroying the keys. For rock fans, these pleasing vibes and high tempos flow pleasingly about the following tracks, “Electric” and “I See No One”: easily the finest moments on New Moon. The record concludes on two of the band’s most awkward sonic conjunctions: the middle filler of the alt-country Venn diagram, “Bird Song”, and the rather masturbatory 8-minute psychedelic rock closer “Supermoon”.
While The Men usually play it close to the chest, sonically stating their musical preferences, New Moon features indulgent harmonica solos and endless guitar solos rather out-of-character for the polished, unequivocal sense of direction that bring to even their roughest sounding tracks. There might be a learning curve for listeners familiar with The Men. It may be tough keep up while the band constantly revitalizes their sound. After four releases from the multi-faceted quartet, New Moon is their first crack at something different in their ever-improving catalog; but, this time, some misled ideas somewhat caught up with this group of brave thinkers.