The Men New Moon

Over the course of four studio albums The Men have established themselves as one of Rock’s most versatile bands. After the gnashing Punk/Noise Rock of 2010’s Immaculada and 2011’s Leave Home, they gave up on sticking to one style per album. Last year marked a turning point in their short career when they released Open Your Heart, their most varied and emotionally bold album that was one of the year’s best. Their newest release New Moon follows just under a year after, and features songs that they have been playing from before even the 2012 album was released. It mostly presents a further mellowing of their sound, but then hits you with some of their harshest material. They commit fully to the abandonment of any concept of a constant thread within their music, and with no primary songwriter or lead singer to paint as a frontman the Brooklyn five-piece seem like a true band. Apart from their drummer, Rich Samis, every member takes a stab at singing, offering a variety of voices that range from great to capable.

This looseness has become The Men’s key component, and on New Moon they switch from fun Garage Rock grinding, to intense Krautrock oppression. The piano chords of opener “Open the Door” might make Leave Home mega-fans violently rage vomit over their record players. As it starts the album with more of a polite knock than a frame splintering kick. It’s a straightforward and pleasant acoustic song, which begins to make sense once it’s revealed to work as a build up to the aggressive radio rock of “Half Angel Half Light”. Which bursts with melody straight out of the gate, due to Nick Chiericozzi and Mark Perro heart-pumping joint lead vocals. Through a sunny acoustic guitar line and a verse-chorus structure that doesn’t waste a second, it conveys a love of radio rock that is as joyous as Jonathan Richman’s love letter to it.

A spirited refrain of “when your heart beats true” elevates “Without a Face”, and its harmonica blasts reveal a deep Folk Rock influence. Their east coast origins and Folk Rock leanings may welcome, encourage, and force comparisons to the Heartland Rock of Bruce Springsteen. But the brand of murky folk they play on “I Saw Her Face” is closer to the rawest albums in Neil Young’s long discography. The song’s front section is led by thick sluggish folk guitar and Perro’s harsh but tuneful croon. He harmonises wonderfully with bassist Ben Greenberg for the title line before the band snap into place for an excellent solo section and tempo bludgeoning outro. This aggressive form of folk rock is just another example of The Men’s music bearing a distinct love and reverence for the Classic Rock repurposing of The Replacements. Even The Men’s discography seems to be aping the sonic and melodic changes that occurred in the three short years between the releases of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash and Let It Be.

New Moon is a very American Rock and Roll album, and it unabashedly embraces this with the “Like a Rolling Stone” piano and harmonica on “Bird Song”, a ragged Rock and Roll Hall of Fame styled slice of Americana. “High and Lonesome” is a slow sunset instrumental that is perfect for the plains. It seems to be building to something but The Men pull and shred the rug from under you instead with “The Brash”, a punk rock vortex with disorienting grunge riffs and duelling guitar solos. Before you can regain your footing they hit you again with the compressed crash cymbals and melodic buzzing thunder of lead single “Electric”. As a digital album the switch from gentle country instrumental to bone rattling ‘pop’ is kind of a sharp and unexpected, akin to crashing into a canyon during a leisurely drive. But as an LP, with a pause and a change of sides separating the two tracks, “High and Lonesome” becomes the perfect wind down and “The Brash” the perfect kick off, causing The Men to score a victory for the vinyl record and in turn strengthen their classic rock ties. But when taken as a list of MP3s, the album’s sequencing is basic, and it could be listened to on shuffle without losing much.

The variety of songs is great but the lack of flow is kind of a disappointment, because it seems like The Men have a truly great rock record within them. The songs are excellent but New Moon feels more like a singles collection, rather than their version of The White Album or Led Zeppelin III. Nothing shows the disparity in the album more than its two closers do. The quick shot “Freaky” moves with a loose pop beat and peaks with a brief rich-toned guitar solo, but “Supermoon” is an eight minute noise rock odyssey with an oppressive thrashing sway that is stuffed with squealing guitar. It beats its way into your skull and brings the album to a punishing conclusion.

The Men may have mellowed their sound, but their capricious approach to rock has made them even more unpredictable than they were as a snarling-lung-hacking Noise Rock band. They seem to have an ‘anything goes as long as it Rocks’ approach when they’re writing their excellent songs, and on New Moon they keep you guessing at what style they’re going to channel next, as they do their best shambolic impressions of a million different types of rock music.