The Men - New Moon | Album Review | By Volume

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The Men

New Moon

While writing this review I footnoted my own joke: “who are they going to be next? ELTON JOHN?”

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Author: on May 2, 2013
Sacred Bones
March 5, 2013

The Men’s music is a badly guarded in-joke. Their love of noise rock is not for the uninitiated (let’s chalk my sleeping on it down to this), and whatever genre they paste in under it is a sweet kind of scholarly, an admiration for something they’ve long studied simply by growing up with. The first time I listened to Leave Home, an album which puts the band in what fans consider their “element” (cries that New Moon is too soft preach this), I was a newcomer to it, but also to its touchstones. Its screamo intersections saw the album at its most clarifying, which shows just how refusing the Men, plugged in and shredding into their amplifiers, can be. It’s not because they want to be, but rather because they can be; the genres their songs splinter into are their favourites, and the songs they’re playing exist unto their affections. I tried to understand Leave Home as if it were the first noise rock album ever made, giving it the intellectual examination you’d leave at the door of even the most stoic Melvins record. It didn’t strike me that the Men weren’t just a noise rock band, but also a band that liked noise rock.

Now “noise rock” is out of the question; the Men aren’t that band by any standard of description, be it intellectual, emotional or both. They’re one of few bands comfortable living in the environment that shapes them, as genre chameleons who don’t find reason to stop the project and start over. I could liken them to the Replacements or to Dinosaur Jr., at this point, punk bands who started smart and simplified (or as others might think, simple punk bands who got heady with country music). I could just as easily compare them to Radiohead, kindred in their ability to let changes wash over, rather then redefine them. But the Men aren’t pulled to make a statement of their sound. The way Radiohead release albums – sparingly, eventfully – makes each feel like a denouement, and so fans seek their newest album out for its tonal treatment. As much as they want to explore it, the Men don’t hold the musical landscape tantamount to their existence. They’re not mysterious in their ambitions, which makes them one of few bands content to meet a yearly quota, and they’re most interested in repping the thing rising to the top of their DNA pool. This also known as: what they’re digging. The Men are the success story of a music-fan-musician: like me, the music they want to make (or play – call it what it is) changes in an instant, on the whim of listening to one record over another. They want to be like Unwound, or fuck that, they want to be like Billy Joel. That accounts for the contingency in their music as well as the long-lasting description of “the Men”.

From its incepting lines, this is a passionately meta album, pragmatic in its focus but sentimentally reaching into another side of rock history. “Open the Door” is the perfect way to open New Moon; it’s the ghost of a country song, rather than the real deal, mimicking tropes like the Men are cautious they might be trespassing in this world. They exhale, play mandolin, and exchange lines with a want for what they’re making, or their idea of it: living, singing, swaying. It’s something the Men have never done before, this idyllic rambling, and so it serves as an induction. But while it’s said great art teaches its audience how to approach it, the Men want us to see what they see, and to move through their world with them. New Moon is the definition of freewheeling, in the improvised and yet trepid spirit it maintains. The Men fumble lines like “tell your mom not just yet” with the romance of it. They fall into “Half Angel Half Light”, a jaunty, half-shaped country rock song, too fast to think about it. And soon enough they’ve buried their idea of resonance – steel guitars, harmonicas and telltale lyrics – underneath another layer of crooked noise rock.

Country touting comes back to the Men spontaneously throughout New Moon, like they’re exchanging one raw sound for another. To them this source of pastoral rock music is for renegades, as much the open wound their noisier mantra is. It’s a sudden and interchangeable sound, like “L.A.D.O.C.H” and its unruly skramz high; “High and Lonesome”, an ambient-suppressing-country, guitar-sliding instrumental, is as instantaneous as the messy, ferocious song that follows it. The Men let their interpretation of twang come bleeding through the cracks of their louder, more abstracting style as if one endearing flaw gives whimpers of the other. You can always hear the two sounds piled on top of eachother, but they actually exist as separate entities, one cleansing the other as if the Men started listening to a Wipers record halfway through recording. This explains how “I See No One”, the most basic, atypical Men song that doesn’t exist on Open Your Heart, is followed by “Bird Song”, which sounds thrown on for size of their inspirations: Harmonicas, loose drumming and a keyboard demonstration which would do well to exist on an early Wilco record.

I like each Men album, but what pulls me to New Moon is its ability to externalise, to make the joke come bursting out as if we’re all in on it. It took me a while to get into Leave Home, but its inaccessibility wasn’t all in its graininess, or its limitless strips of the same texture. The Men were playing a style they liked, and we’ve come to access their music in default of it. Open Your Heart was a more melodic version of it, and this is a version of it that… features pianos? New Moon is the pretty, swinging record it aspires to be at times, and at others it’s a repression of those impulses, successful in reminding me this is that same band. In an era of stroked mob-mentality, where people can easily dismiss an album in four infuriatingly useless words (“new album is boring [2]”), the Men challenge their own definition without knowing it, just by playing music based on the last record that came off their shelf. They might look their fans’ way and ask “how cool is this?”, and then they might remember they have the tools to be that noise rock band. They can do whatever they want, because they expect to leave a trail. While writing this review I footnoted my own joke: “who are they going to be next? ELTON JOHN?” That honestly remains to be seen.

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