New Moon, Shedding a Different, Gentler Light on The Men

…eventually we always come back to Brooklyn.

Being late to a party is considered fashionable. With music, however, being late can oftentimes lead to missing out on some of the early intimate opportunities to experience a band at their most raw and formative moments like the other evening when my friends and I watched the lads from Foxygen struggle through the second leg of their set. At first, the experience was almost magical, the audience was transported back in time to a small club in the late 1960s filled with incense, paisley, tie-dye, and the optimism of Aquarius as the boys and lady of Foxygen plowed through a perfect renditions of “Blue Mountain”, “Make It Known”, “In The Darkness”, and “No Destruction”. Then suddenly, the seams unraveled. Despite the near train wreck quality of the closing numbers (replete with profanities and almost antagonistic attitude towards the audience), I found myself charmed by watching this disconcerting interplay of exquisite musicianship and evolving showmanship. This is why we really relish catching a band in the early days, it’s like catching lightning in a bottle, before or you could get shocked. Well here’s a band that I “sort of” missed the boat on, but perhaps I’m getting in just at the right time?

Brooklyn’s the Men were, it seemed to me, one of those acts that, like Ty Segall, every critic and rock/punk enthusiast I respect were all a-buzz over, recalling those days of giddy adolescence clad in Descendents or Buzzcocks t-shirts. Yet, despite all the critical fanfare, I never got it. On a couple of occasions, I tried listening to 2012’s Open Your Hear but I couldn’t’ really sink into it. I recognized something that was familiar and appealing but it didn’t quite resonate. When a good friend started mentioning his growing interest, I decided to give them another shot and it happened to coincide with the release of their new record, their third in three years. (An impressive feat but nowhere near as fecund as Ty Segall’s output (three records last year) or Lil’ Wayne circa the early 00s or Ryan Adams in the late 90s/early 00s. All I can say is slow down, you are acting like Hamlet’s mom, moving straight from one major life event to another without letting us breath.)

new moonWhere Open Your Heart started out aggressively, full-throttle guitar shredding and scream singing, New Moon sets a totally different tone, a gentle soothing welcome, like you were going back with the band to meet their family in the countryside. The jangle-pop vibe given of by the opening cut (fittingly titled), “Open the Door”, feels like you’ve accidentally walked in on a mellow backyard jam in the vein of early Wilco, especially on their collaboration with Billy Bragg Mermaid Avenue Vols. 1 & 2, or Sun Volt, the dueling tribes emerging from the schism of (Uncle) Tupelo. Yet, New Moon is no somber, reflective Americana/Roots Rock departure for the Men (although the repeated use of harmonicas might deceive you). On the ensuing two cuts, the band power up the amps and bring back the onslaught of guitars (almost Dinosaur Jr.-esque in their unabashed adoration for these stringed creatures of distortion), allowing themselves to play a purposefully rough, unrefined sound. On “Half Angel Half Light”, The Men return to their post-punk aesthetic with what sounds like a sped up version of Iggy Pop’s “Passenger” with the  dirty fuzz of early Husker Du, an effect that gives the music an earnest authenticity, the sort of “we aren’t gonna sugar coat this with fancy studio tricks and make it all glossy and refined, this is what the song is, rough and tumble.” Even if this “effect” is constructed, it still is conducive to generating a greater connection with the listener. After the aggressive rock numbers, the Men scale back to Buddy Holly 60s pop rock on “The Seeds”; if it also reminds you of The Walkmen, I wouldn’t argue with.

You are probably getting the picture by now. New Moon is continuously shifting gears along rock sub-genres but always with a decidedly lo-fi flavor, even the instrumental Southwestern number, “High and Lonesome”, which could be an outtake from an early Calexico record or an Ennio Morricone score, sounds as though it is being funneled through an aural muzzle. For one who grew up listening to bands like the Pixies, Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr, and Pavement, these songs rekindle countless memories of sitting around in basements listening to really loud, noise-y, almost cacophonous records that brought countless moments of glee.

With each listen, New Moon begets more connections, associations, recollections.  It is like stumbling across a good friend you haven’t seen in many years, you start reminiscing about previous exploits and excursions, remembering moments and days filed away in musty corners of your grey matter. In fact, this could be the soundtrack to your conversation.

Look, I know you’ve only just meet but I think it’s time to give the Men a chance. Despite some really intense moments and eccentricities, they have a wide range of emotions and they’ll be there for you when you really need them. So go out on a limb, listen to The Men’s New Moon.

I’ll see you at the show.

a.a.

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