It’s been exactly a year since the release of The Men’s third and critically-acclaimed album Open Your Heart. There was little to dislike in that album: the hybrid of classic rock riffage, noise rock, and psychedelia provided what could only be described as a raw approach to a vintage cool. Compared to the album that came before it, 2011’s Leave Home, Open Your Heart was a welcome expansion not only of genres, but of the band’s songwriting. Open Your Heart sounded like a cohesive album, a quality that usually only comes up after twenty years of repeated listens. Part of that appeal plays on the ignorant generalization that guitars signify authenticity, but much of what The Men communicate in their songs is rooted in nostalgia. It doesn’t quite sound like what one would imagine a 21st-century album would be, and yet, when the opening riff of “Turn it Around” comes through the speakers, it’s become a signature 2012 sentiment.
Fast forward one year, and The Men have delivered on their promise for an early 2013 follow-up. While New Moon sounds more like Open Your Heart than anything else from the band’s brief career, there are some changes in the album’s production that sets it apart. With a harder edge, sounding more aggressive and amplified than its predecessor, New Moon is more articulate as a whole. Some expressed distaste for the lull in Open Your Heart’s center (namely during the title track and “Candy”), and while New Moon explores similar slower country and folk-influenced songs, the results are interspersed more evenly throughout the album. New Moon, even in being a longer album than Open Your Heart, showcases The Men’s ability to construct and finely detail an album as a whole rather than a collection of influences.
Much of the New Moon immerses itself in the classic and Southern rock influences introduced on Open your Heart, all the while using those same influences in the band’s development and growth. “I Saw Her Face” could indeed pass for an At Dawn-era My Morning Jacket song, and perhaps the gullible could believe that “Half Angel Half Light” is a Warren Zevon cover, and “Bird Song” undoubtedly takes its cues from Lynyrd Skynyrd, but it’s not about who the influences are or how innovative The Men are. For The Men, the strength is in the way that these songs shamelessly play on these influences, pair them with the band’s undeniably equal punk and noise rock influence, and produce a hard-hitting rock and roll album.
This strength is further explored in the second half of the album, which, unlike Open Your Heart, is the energetic highlight of the album. The emphasis here is on The Men’s tradition in garage rock, so songs like “The Brass” and “Electric” hardly seem out of place for the band. However, instead of losing the sun-kissed candor and energy of the first half, the album intensifies that energy and brings its tone to this lo-fi, garage rock style. It’s one of the few instances in which noise rock – especially on the cosmic album closer, “Supermoon” – conjures images of expansive American highways instead of Lynchian urban nightmares; and frankly, it’s a welcome relief.
As said before, this album is much more about a traditional, classic sense of rock and roll than its predecessor. That’s not to say, however, that this is an album about rock and roll – such a redundant concept seems too pompous for The Men – but instead an album where the reminiscence of rock is revitalized by The Men’s gift of genre hybridization. These songs champion big rhythms, heavy guitar riffs, an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, and some well-placed harmonica licks. Being that this more or less describes just about every relevant and interesting rock and roll band in history, then it shouldn’t be difficult to recognize The Men as one of the most sincere and rewarding rock bands in recent memory. [A-]
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