The Men, ‘New Moon’ – Album Review
There’s sorta this unwritten rule in indie rock that says it’s totally OK for a band to sound like someone else as long as that influence isn’t too obscured and the band brings a little something extra to its own music. The more influences covered, and the more a band magnifies their sounds, the better. We’re guessing that something like 77 percent of ‘10s indie rock follows this formula. Just ask the Men.
The buzzed-about Brooklyn quartet doesn’t do anything too original on its fourth album in four years, but the manner in which they expand on their standby ricochet punk and fist-bumping noise-rock brings up a tsunami of new sounds. Sometime between last year’s ‘Open Your Heart’ and ‘New Moon,’ the Men added more layers to their muscular music, which in the past coiled like a lethal combo of Unsane, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Imagine those bands making an indie-rock take on roots music and you get an idea where the new and improved Men stand.
From the opening notes of the first track, ‘Open the Door,’ the five-year-old band rises to new levels of sophistication on ‘New Moon.’ The casually strolling piano and acoustic guitars – as well as the song’s soft, warm production – recall Wilco before they got all artsy. Then ‘Half Angel Half Light’ stumbles in with a 1980s modern-rock hook and wah-wah guitar borrowed from a decade or two before that. The next 10 songs continue these twists and turns through the past 40 or so years.
Of course the guitars and noise are still here. They collide with a hurricane of a harmonica riff on ‘Without a Face,’ clutter the landscape with earsplitting distortion on ‘Electric’ and are stripped to a low-fi, unplugged version of the Replacements (complete with mandolin) on ‘The Seeds.’ And on the dusty trail-kicker ‘Bird Song,’ the Men keep the amps at 11 as harmonica, piano and slide guitar cuddle inside the hum.
What ‘New Moon’ lacks is a definitive statement on what the Men are. They’re lots of things on the album – classic rock band, punk band, noise band, Americana band, low-fi indie-rock band – but none of them pins them down. Which is probably the point. But this indecisiveness, plus the not-entirely-unrelated growing pains, sounds like they’re heading for something big. ‘New Moon’’s place in the history it’s so intent on surveying may just reveal itself over time.