BY PETER LILLIS
To some musicians and listeners, originality is king. To others, it’s all about technical skills. And some just want to rock the fuck out. The Men—as evidenced by New Moon, their third record in three years for Sacred Bones, out this week—are part of the last group. Continuing their course towards mainstream popularity, New Moon strikes the same chords as before, emphasizing the honesty and humanity of rock and roll. Not even the most casual rock fan will hear anything particularly new in New Moon, but that’s not the point.
The Men understand that there are few things as powerful as five dudes jamming in a room. New Moon is yet another chapter of the same book, a mini-arc part of the larger story that further defines The Men as one of the strongest and most promising bands to emerge in the rock and roll revolution of independent music. It’s the obvious successor to Open Your Heart (our #14 album of 2012), taking their interest in pub rock and Americana to another level.
Employing a classic rock sound with a lo-fi edge, New Moon is the most accessible of The Men’s releases thus far. Tracks such as “Open The Door”, “The Seeds” and “Bird Song” likely would be welcome on a Lucero, The Lumineers or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes Pandora station; three bands with separate, larger and less risky fan bases than The Men. While this newfound emphasis on pop rock may turn off fans of 2011’s Leave Home—specifically songs like the unrelenting hardcore rager “Think” or the violent psychedelic closer “Night Landing”—New Moon isn’t a record of compromises. Not unlike Titus Andronicus’ underappreciated Local Business, New Moon indicates The Men are willing to explore more traditional sounds (relatively) with the same wide-eyed ferocity as before.
Like the best Neil Young and Crazy Horse records, New Moon’s softer touches are foiled by moments of inspired guitar freakouts, these with Loveless level distortion and Damaged level abandon. “The Brass” is impossibly heavy, begging for a packed-house moshpit. “I See No One” brings the band into folk punk territory, with distorted acoustics and In Utero-esque crooning. The eight-minute closer “Supermoon” is terrifying in its immensity. With scrappy harmonies, a warm bassline and extended guitar evangelism, the album’s lead single and standout track “I Saw Her Face” works as a strong thesis for The Men in the New Moon period.
What connects New Moon to its predecessors is its no bullshit approach and it’s fluid, dreamlike narrative. Taking cues from protopunk, post-hardcore and noise rock bands like Sonic Youth, The Jesus Lizard and The Velvet Underground, The Men’s music exudes a sort of smoky mystery. The songs flow together at the seams; if you’re not paying strict attention, you may not notice a track change or two. Even under the light of pop, The Men manage to emphasize the underlying emotion of timeless rock without sacrificing subtlety.
And that’s exactly what separates The Men from their rock revival peers, including The Gaslight Anthem, The Black Keys and The Hold Steady: they present their interest in classic rock without beating you over the head with it. It’s rock and roll, period. The best rock bands understand the difference between being sentimental and being timeless.
In Year of the Horse, Jim Jarmusch’s 1996 documentary about Neil Young and Crazy Horse on tour, a fan is heard shouting to the stage, “they all sound the same!” To which Neil replies: “It’s all one song.” When it comes to his particular brand, there’s no better tagline. With the release of New Moon, it’s safe to say The Men agree.
Peter Lillis is Managing Editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. His father taught him well. All photos are his. New Moon cover courtesy of Sacred Bones.