It took a few decades, but the punk rockers figured out that classic rock radio offers a goldmine of decent ideas ready to get damaged. Dinosaur Jr. understood this to an extent, but their catalog always felt arena-ready. The acts who still, strictly aesthetically speaking, belong in the bars, basements, and DIY blowouts have begun crafting a way to take these notions of grandeur and apply them to the gritty house show ethic – an uneasy feat. The Decibel Tolls’ album of the year in 2011 was The War on Drugs’ Slave Ambient, a record that amalgamated blue collar anthems a la Springsteen with airy, atmospheric space pop via Slowdive and Spiritualized. In 2013, the next artist to master such a disparate concoction is The Men and their gorgeous follow-up to last year’s blockbuster Open Your Heart - New Moon.
New Moon showcases this five-piece as a brain trust that appreciates The Wipers and Swell Maps alongside Tom Petty and Neil Young in equal measures. Some reviewers have lambasted the record as “uneven,” as if they haven’t heard Jane In Occupied Europe before. Fuck that noise because that opinion is stupid. New Moon is both adventurous and an adventure. Cohesion was obviously left at the door when they passed through the threshold of the recording studio, and the result is a surprise turn at the closing of each song. Personally, I’m tired of thematic records. Fuck with my expectations on every song, man! Love it or loaf it, The Men are on this astral plane.
New Moon opens with possibly the biggest “hi, haters!” move in recent memory. What once was an abrasive noise punk act, “Open the Door” busts through with twangy acoustic guitar, vocal harmonies, Hammond organ, and rollicking, waltzy piano. It’s AM Gold as fuck, and I love it. “Half Angel Half Lights” moves to the FM spectrum with power pop somewhere between the aforementioned Petty and an original take on Big Star. Earthy, dense, and remarkably delicate, not to mention a chorus saturated with wah-guitar that comes out of nowhere, New Moon is already a top ten contender two songs in.
“Without a Face” comes raging with a bizarre bucolic version of Sonic Youth or Mission of Burma, and moves into art-damaged electric folk and jangle pop with a Francis Bacon spin. Say, isn’t this the same group of guys who released Immaculada in 2010, a record that toggled between Belong style suffocating ambient noise and Jesus Lizard thrash? Some reviewers have likened New Moon to a transitional record, but really last year’s Open Your Heart provided the bridge. The Men’s strange, spacey cowpunk and unbridled punk muscle are most focused on New Moon, and the latter has never sounded better than with “The Brass,” single “Electric,” and “I See No One” – New Moon’s crowning trifecta. Talk about making noise rock lush. Talk about providing this level of sonic terror, replete with (calculated) junky percussion and disjointed composition, that spits out aerodynamic pop melodies aimed directly at the International Space Station.
The final trio of songs shows The Men at their most psychedelia-oriented – juke joint reverberated vocals (“Freak”), warm analog organ splatter (“Bird Song”), and multi-movement sludgy hypnosis (“Supermoon”). Considering it appears that The Men put serious thought into sequencing, not just doin’ the whole “dropped off some tracks on the way to the grocery” thing three-quarters of rock bands lazily plod through, one could infer this might be the direction The Men head toward when their next album drops (which at this rate would be next year). And that’s fine by me. It’s a real challenge to weave so succinctly a pastiche of so many different genres, while placing a distinct, cohesive stamp on each diversion – and in The Men’s case, that means sending the canonical songwriting through the shredder.
Sure, not all the juxtapositions and expectation-turning immediately makes sense, but The Men are throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks. Most of the time it works, and truth be told, it’s a pleasure to be invited to hear them work through a myriad of ideas that also end up as great songs.
The Men’s New Moon is available now via Sacred Bones.
Fagen-Becker Quality Rating