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The Men - New Moon

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Artist: The Men

Album: New Moon

Label: Sacred Bones

Review date: Mar. 4, 2013

The Men are perfectly pitched to be a critic’s pick. Armed with a record collector’s sense of music history and a spontaneous, sloppy approach, the Brooklyn group goes about its work with an undeniable enthusiasm. The band’s first two albums for Sacred Bones Records each feel like a live performance, embedding extremely catchy songs in textural explorations of feedback or droning instrumentals. On The Men’s fourth LP, New Moon, the looseness persists, but the excitement has dissipated.

One major change with this new album is the loss of bassist/singer/songwriter Chris Hansell, replaced by Ben Greenberg (from Pygmy Shrews). Hansell insured the hardcore element in The Men, providing the screaming tracks indebted 1980s New York and Los Angeles scenes. This element seemed like a necessary counterpoint to the poppier indie tastes of the songwriters/guitarists Nick Chiericozzi and Mark Perro. With this parting of ways, The Men sadly took a worn-out path and ditched some of the noise along the way — repairing upstate to a farmhouse to find themselves. The symptoms were apparent on Open Your Heart, with the country throwaway track, “Candy,” but New Moon gives the impression that these guys have been listening a little too closely to The Band, looking for their own Big Pink.

Yet, “Candy” still had a trashy quality (almost like a track from Guns n’ Roses Lies); the lightweight opener of New Moon, “Open the Door,” just sounds tawdry and staid. While the band’s last record’s request — “Open Your Heart” — bespoke an admirable earnestness, New Moon’s bucolic yearning is cheesy. Another cowpunk track, “The Seeds” (sounding nothing like the garage band namedrop), employs tinny junkshop acoustic guitar a shade too cute. The other salient influence on display is Neil Young, the perennial indie touchstone. Tracks like “I Saw Her Face” and “Bird Song,” like Crazy Horse by numbers, come in heavy and hard, guitars blazing, and then quiet down for soft falsetto vocal deliveries.

Despite the country-rock influence, New Moon isn’t ponderous, a common pitfall of punk-cum-pastoral bands. And while lyrics about “driving through the countryside,” or “playing in a rock and roll band,” or “the lone tambourine ringing,” are silly, the songs always sound honest and uncalculated. But it leaves me wondering if affecting country rock demands a higher level of competency (not just having a lap steel player along for the ride).

The Men still have a knack for memorable melodies, here mostly mined from a folk collective unconscious. On the first half of the record, there’s the two-song, heavy-yet-melodic thrash of “Half Angel Half Light” and “Without a Face” that reminds you that The Men can be truly exciting. Later on, you can hear Johnny Thunders (another new reference for this band) in the guitar riffs of “The Brass” and the first single, “Electric.” And though the album keeps this heavier pace up for its remainder, the last two songs come off exhausted. The eight-minute closer, “Supermoon,” aims for epic but falls short. It probably works live, but on record sounds like M.O.R. space rock.

New Moon contains a handful of good songs, just like The Men’s prior two albums for Sacred Bones. The main difference here is that the stellar tracks aren’t embedded amongst thrilling instrumentals. Those excursions couched the reverential songwriting, revisiting the hits of punk past between swaths of noise. But here, the good songs are spaced out by throwaway tunes. It still sounds like these men are having fun, but I can’t speak as confidently about the rest of us.

By Scott Branson

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