Album Review: The Men – Leave Home

[Sacred Bones; 2011]

What ever happened to heavy psych? Interestingly enough, it might be one of the most recent causalities of the aughts. It’s been a good while since psychedelic rock had some unadulterated punk thrown into the mix to brew up a bit of brain-melt freakout. Psychedelia has recently strayed successfully toward the half-lidded intensity of Tame Impala and, more recently, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Groups like White Hills and The Psychic Paramount are championing lengthy widescreen workouts, and, in the case of the latter, throwing some mathematically-charged turns into play. The grand masters of apocalyptic psych meltdown, Comets On Fire, turned into a prog band five years ago and haven’t been heard from since; Boris is off trying to make electro metal into a thing; Boredoms are still performing with upwards of nine drummers, but haven’t found their way into a studio in nearly a decade; and Acid Mothers Temple might have transcended into beings of pure energy that still somehow release nine records a year that no one talks about for all I know. Far be it from me to lament the lack of influence of Hawkwind and Ash Ra Tempel on the grander indie scene in 2011, but there’s still something about the marriage of atonal three-chord abandon and hallucinogenic aspiration that just fundamentally works goddammit.

The Men’s second LP, Leave Home, quite favorably throws the punk out in front of the psych and bludgeons it with mountains of fuzz and cascading sheets of six-string feedback for a good forty or so minutes. In fact, The Men, in most cases, favor the visceral blood-scented atmosphere of 80s noise rock and no wave to any far reaching astral projections. Leave Home renders its eroding riffs barren and brutal, vocals descending into rasping screams on more than one occasion.

Seven and half minute opener “If You Leave…” basks in three minutes of shuttering guitar affectation and droning electronic ambiance before launching into perhaps the most psych-leaning track on the record like a harsher Dead Meadow, employing the reverberating harmonized mantra “I would die” over a colossal wall of guitar fuzz and melodic tremolo lines. “Lotus” wipes the trip-friendly beginnings away with teeth-gritted vocal-less workout. But the one-two-three punch of what follows the second track is really where Leave Home shines.

“Think” turns its grinding bedrock riff into a roaring singular stampede of guitars, playing host to shredded vocals and squalling saxophone, halting the track a couple times at a feedback-ridden pronouncement before jumping back into the bedlam and ending on a schizo guitar solo. “L.A.D.O.C.H.” slows things down to a funeral dirge, letting waves of howling feedback arc over a crawling doom riff beneath rambling coughing screams. “( )” is probably the biggest thing here – a fiery “wah”-drenched riff split by a hypnotic interlude and stumbling freakout guitar solo.

There’s a lot of variety on Leave Home that’s perhaps not immediately apparent due to the consistency of instrumentation (guitar, drum, bass). The group frequently trades differing vocal styles, jumping from racked lunged screaming to breathless ranting to anthemic punk bite in the space of three songs. The atmosphere on “L.A.D.O.C.H.” stands beside some of drone metal’s most noisy and apocalyptic recalling Amplifier Worship-era Boris. “Night Landing” is a flanged bass-driven affair and  “Shittin’ With the Shah” is a hazy slide-guitar fueled instrumental that erupts back into firestorm three-quarters the way through.

The previously mentioned punk priority can be traced back to early-80s hardcore more readily than perhaps the psych-flavored protopunk of The Stooges, favoring some unexpected breakneck maturity and tightness amidst the pounding momentum. And while a lot of what The Men do is right at home with the aughts’ evolutionary psych-bent noise underground, the songwriting on tunes like “Think” and “Bataille” include a few more conscious turns that throw them up alongside recent groups like Iceage, building on a specific early-80s punk foundation and coming out ahead of any genre-specific shorthand because of it. In any case, Leave Home is no doubt one of the most gut-punched and brain-addled rock rock records to arrive in quite some time.