Album Review: The Men – Open Your Heart

[Sacred Bones; 2012]

I almost don’t know how to write about this record. I mean I really like it; like I really, really like it. It’s immersive and dense, thick with low-end guitar tracks that drape over you, but not so heavy that it envelops because if it did those scorchers piercing the sky above on tracks like “Oscillation” wouldn’t so easily get lodged in that sweet spot at the crossroads between your ear your brain and your gut. The Men’s Open Your Heart is a guitar-lover’s record, and that’s why I almost don’t know how to write about it. “Almost” because there are tons of clichés I could — and probably will — drop, like “riff” or “fiery” or “scorch” or “stomach pummeling” or “shred” (and its infinite portmanteau possibilities) or y’know just “rock.” As in The Men’s Open Your Heart, their third LP and second for Brooklyn label Sacred Bones, just fucking rocks, man. I mean I already had some idea I was pushing the limits with regurgitated rock vocab, trying as I might to rip some last iota of meat from their carcasses through like context and what not, but then I read that Nitsuh Abebe piece on rockism that ends with a mention of Dave Grohl’s Grammy performance alongside Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Joe Walsh, and then that killer line “No wonder we need to get inventive when we talk about rock.” Like, shit. Yeah.

So Open Your Heart is incredibly intricate and technically masterful. Not necessarily in a Fucked Up 17-guitar-tracks-on-one-song kinda way, but the stunning, brick-by-brick build on the aforementioned “Oscillation” speaks for itself, as do the playful flourishes on top of flourishes from guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiercicozzi’s that accent the shorter thrashers. The riffs don’t so much jostle for attention as they spring out of each other, like how the acidic slur of this wah-wah pedaled line in the middle of “Cube” sways for a few moments and then gives way seamlessly to a blistering nail biter that skitters out of control at end of the fretboard until that peaks and you get a classic pick slide down the top strings so the song can combust into its chorus, “I give it away someone,” which probably isn’t what Perro is saying (screaming), but I don’t have a lyric sheet and I’m too busy head banging at my desk to really care. And obviously all that layering and switching around has to add up to something, which it does — these are excellent punk/pop/rock cuts, perfect in their bare bones familiarity, but absolutely unique in the presentation. You’ve heard that one-two-vamp-on-the-third-note blues riff that kicks off opener “Turn It Around” a thousand times before, and that’s because it’s designed to get you every time; but The Men are too wont to explore every corner of a song (or hell, even just a riff), searching till they hit gold and yank out the perfect complimenting melody.

And what’s really cool is that those moments could easily studied calculations or nimble-fingered improvisations that shatter the rock-time continuum. The time and thought and sweat and calluses that went into making this record are more than audible. The songwriting more than speaks for itself – The Men have become masters of constructing these collages-as-songs (and I mean that in the best way possible), filtering then distilling the entire spectrum of rock just to their liking. The title track is ‘Mats-like rambunctiousness, though perhaps a bit more sober, with some emo-as-hell (again, I absolutely mean that in the best way possible) lyrics, “Open your heart to me / I’m lost, I’m found / I’ve been tugging at your sleeve” and, “Even if she says no / I won’t let go,” with the “gooooo” trailing off into everyone’s favorite abyss, rejection. On “Presence” you get tastes of Zeppelin from the steady pounding of the bass drum and rhythm guitar to the backing “ahhs,” but it’s never punishing, always maintaining a certain lightness. And “Country Song” is literally just that: a twangy, relaxed melody that swoons and sways, with guitars to match, except those six strings sound like they’re a few hours into a really good trip. Top that off with some impressive sequencing and you’ve got one of those records where everything’s in its right place. It rages, rages more, tapers off, creeps up behind you, knocks your block off, takes a step back, then does those last two simultaneously – and that’s just the first half of the album.

But the amazing thing is for all their technical skill, The Men are so at ease with their instruments you’ll be convinced its the latter regardless. That kind of breezy confidence permeates the entire record, from, well duh, the summertime, beer-soaked acoustic slack of “Candy” to the ferocious strains of Perro’s vocals on “Animal” as he blurts out “Wrap your hands around my neck / Rub your nails down my back / I wanna feel you! / I wanna feel you!” as drummer Rich Samis beats the living hell out of every single piece in his kit with a dextrous finesse that keeps you on the edge for the next cymbal crash or fill or combinations of anything. And this is imperative: from that certainty comes a love of rock and roll that washes over everything, and keeps Open Your Heart miles away from sounding like an overwrought essay on “look, man, punk can be anything!” We already know that – well maybe not completely ’cause Open Your Heart does remind you of one thing: it can be fun. Maybe that’s the word we’re missing when we’re talking about rock.