The Men, 'New Moon' (Sacred Bones)

8
New Moon
Critical Mass
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Label: Sacred Bones

by Jon Young

"The Men" initially strikes as a pretty arrogant band name. But given the dizzying speed of their evolution, the Brooklyn quintet that shines so brightly on New Moon were probably wise to keep their options open by assuming such a generic tag. From the brutal noise of 2011's Leave Home to the rootsier strains of last year's Open Your Heart to the greater confidence of this new set, the gents have pulled off the difficult trick of diversifying their attack without losing any of their bracing intensity.

Leaving New York City’s urban confines behind to record in the Catskills, singer-guitarists Nick Chiericozzi and Mark Perro proclaim their more down-home bent right at the onset with "Open the Door," an inviting toe-tapper driven by genial piano. But even with lap steel player Kevin Faulkner joining the team, his contributions can be as forceful as a grating punk riff on the band’s rowdier songs, which still outnumber the polite ones. Nasty or nice, New Moon wants to be heard as a ragged collection of specific moments in time, not a tidy, polished work of art — thanks to the studio chatter bookending many tracks, you can feel the room where they play, while chaos often lurks in the dense mix alongside wheezing harmonica and nervous drums.

The Men have a lot to say on subjects like self-destruction, the salvation of a woman's love, and the quest for enlightenment. "Supermoon," the epic, plodding eight-minute epic (and only dud), even ends with the protagonist knocking on heaven's door. The album's real message, however, is their enhanced ability to compose catchy songs, from the twangy stomper "Half Angel Half Light" to the sleek, Buzzcocks-inspired "Electric" to the glorious eruption of ear-shredding noise "The Brass." In smoother hands, "Freaky" or "The Seeds" could be repurposed as slick, profitable entertainment. Fortunately, our hosts have something deeper, heavier, and noisier in mind.

While Bob Dylan and Neil Young are acknowledged inspirations for New Moon’s ragged-but-right vibe, Chiericozzi and Perro might take a few more cues from their wise elders, neither of whom has ever been the least bit timid about asserting himself. Often burying their voices in the mix, rendering the words unintelligible without a lyric sheet, the Men can come off oddly shy, even as they unleash a gripping sonic storm. (As "I See No One" observes, "Sometimes it's safer to stay alone / There's less chance of being found.") Take two refresher shots of Joe Strummer's bravado, boys, and your next album could make this one sound outmoded. But in the meantime, New Moon offers pleasures aplenty.

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