The Men have a history that’s impossible to ignore, but it has little to say about what kind of music they are presently making. Sure, there’s a traceable progression, and while it’s easy to say that they’ve lost their edge or more critically, “thrown it away,” they’re simply making the music they want to make without worrying about what comes tomorrow. This allows them to paint themselves as one of the few chameleons in rock music that manage to reach beyond a single tone–and even more impressive, on a dime. Since the band’s formation, they have been releasing a record a year, each with its own breadth, motive, and mildly amended lineup. The Men’s heavy, psychedelic-punk opus Leave Home was only released a couple years ago and even after releasing their much more accessible 2012 album Open Your Heart, the band still hasn’t wasted any time switching up their persona, this time diving deeper into the phrasings of country and southern rock.
For listeners that soaked up every moment of Open Your Heart, New Moon shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The record lives primarily off the ideas of “Candy,” one of the former album’s more free-willed moments, sending the slide “can go to a million places, could sing a thousand songs” right to the projector. New Moon opens with–of all things–jaunty piano keying and acoustic guitar. The lyrics of “Open the Door” contain some true-to-life southern imagery, making it perfectly clear that these words are not completely driven by self-experience; they’re paying tribute to the kinds of music that made them want to make it in the first place.
The country sound is approached with reverence and assimilated into their own quick-paced, grimy rock methodology. “Half Moon Half Light” brings together Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi on a dually fronted track that covers the most ground with their carefree and simplified lyricism, but there’s something different about their situation on “Candy.” They seem fraught, a little beaten down, but still trying to get it together in a way that doesn’t sacrifice being human. In fact, the entire record doesn’t make as many sacrifices as the first couple tracks would lead to believe. Cheery songs like “The Seeds” and “Bird Song” often dual-purpose as enjoyable bufferzones for some of the harder tracks like “The Brass” and “I Saw Her Face.” If you’re a fan of The Men, it’s hard not to welcome moments like these because going ballistic on instruments still happens to be what they are best at–and it seems they still know that too.
“Supermoon,” the album’s 8-minute epic of a closer, is one of The Men’s heaviest songs since their 2011 lineup. While this is the album’s most retroactively appreciative moment, it signals that the ride certainly isn’t over. The tone of “Supermoon” feels very Stooges, calling specifically back to “Loose,” following an eerily similar chord and drum structure. There is something awfully superhuman about the delivery. The droned-out “ah”s sung by Chiericozzi and Greenberg drape the combatively spiritual words from Mark Perro as if an abandoned church is crumbling around them: “Hey faith, what are you gonna do? / I saw your power and I’m coming for you”.
New Moon is certainly not as jarring of an experience as Open Your Heart was. The latter album was a conglomeration of The Men’s past experience with doom, drear and anger transitioning into their newfound place in the world. New Moon has extended the the group’s realization of their own freedom. With Immaculada and Leave Home it was the freedom to be upset, with Open Your Heart it was the freedom to lose yourself in every feeling, and with New Moon it’s about the freedom they never want to end but are struggling to keep.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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