Album Review: The Men – New York City

[Fuzz Club; 2023]

No one knew it at the time, but Brooklyn’s The Men were destined for a relapse. Back in 2012 the band skyrocketed to the forefront of punk music after the back-to-back banger filled albums Leave Home and Open Your Heart. Then, a year later, they released New Moon, an even more accessible, damn near poppy record that further cemented the band as true purveyors of rock history.

But the not-so-subtle mix of punk, shoegaze, Americana, and twangy country became all too blurry with 2014’s Tomorrow’s Hits, an underrated record but a definite drop in replayability that signalled a departure for the band that – if you were paying – attention was predictable. Maybe it was the switch to a proper studio, straying from the DIY approach they’d incorporated for the first leg of their career, that inspired them to sand off the rougher edges of their sound and move closer to radio-friendly territory.

Whatever the case, a lot of folks gave up on the band after that, especially with a similar approach being integrated successfully with Danish-punks Iceage on their genre-splicing classic Plowing Into the Field of Love released six months later. The Men didn’t bounce back with their subsequent releases. 2016’s Devil Music was an attempted return to their beloved sound – a relapse of a sort – but it seemed like no one was listening.

That should have been the end. More popular bands have called it quits after one misfire, but The Men pushed through, staying true to themselves and keeping that breakneck release schedule. From 2010-2020, the Men released eight albums, the last one, Mercy, dropping in February 2020, mere weeks before the world shut down due to COVID-19. Now grounded right after a release, stripping them of any viable path forward for promoting Mercy, the band seemed to disappear.

They resurfaced in early 2022 on Instagram, and six months later revealed New York City, their most appropriately titled album to date. Written during lockdown, and released with Fuzz Club (thus ending their decade long partnership with Sacred Bones), New York City is their second relapse into their past – but this time feels different.

Right off the bat, “Hard Livin” squeals with the urgency of Minor Threat with vocalist Nick Chiericozzi snarling his way through a plug-and-play structured romp. It’s the same kind of ballistic opener the band used on their breakthrough Open Your Heart with “Turn Around”. It’s not as slick as anything off that record, but it’s dirty and rough, and just like the album’s title; it’s all very New York.

The Men have always been looking to the past to create their future, the DNA of every song they’ve cut can be traced back to an influence, but it wasn’t until the latter records that it felt tiring. Here, the band sounds rejuvenated, inspired by vacant streets and eerily dim city lights that they feel connected to on “Through the Night”.

There’s also disconnection. “God Bless the USA” isn’t some prideful anthem that Coors Light bros will be stomping their shit-kickers to, instead it’s a harsh retrospective on how inflammatory the United States has felt for years. It’s presented in standard The Men fashion, with soaring guitar work and hooks aplenty, served over a bed of growls and sneers like it should be.

As far back as 2011’s Leave Home, the band have held the reigns tightly on their pop-leanings, loosening them with each release until 2020’s Mercy practically dropped them entirely and just dove into carnal wildness. While they return to the more structured sounds with New York City, the desire to write infectious barn-burners is still in their repertoire as showcased by the immediately catchy “Peace of Mind”, where even Chiericozzi’s blown out vocals in the chorus can’t stop it from being an instant classic for the band and no doubt a future crowd pleaser.

The same can be said for “Echo”, despite it being slightly more aggressive. Its rhythmic drumming from Rich Samis never tires and Chiericozzi matches it perfectly with a belting “Waiting for the echo” chorus and a wonderfully scuzzy guitar solo for good measure. It’s these moments that feel like New York City was the album that should have come after Tomorrow’s Hits.

Across these 10 tracks the intensity and energy rarely relents, but fans of the band’s twangier side get their reward with as album closer “River Flows”, which isn’t just the longest track (nearing seven minutes), it’s also the most subdued. Bluesy in execution but still garage rock inspired riffs make it the Men’s least chaotic finish to one of their albums, a welcome transition, despite a somewhat awkward tempo mix of dual vocals that do harmonize wonderfully.

Where New York City succeeds the most though is in how natural it feels, something we haven’t gotten from the band in some time. It should surprise no one that a majority of folks had written this band off, and The Men know this. They fire back in 2023 with their most direct record for some time, a collection of hard rock staples mixed with their punk roots that the band uses to pay homage to the legends of their city’s glorious music scene, and do so perfectly.