(Sacred Bones, 2011)
You’re gonna read a lot about how The Men said “fuck it” when it came to scene crashing, rejecting popular (read: blog popular) opinion and opting instead to tread a no-nonsense path recalling the best and purest expressions of indie rock in the past 30 years. (And sidenote: 30 years??? Wow.) It’s as if the boys behind The Men consciously endeavored to subvert the witch house, hypno pop, meta dance, garage, and lo-fi trends of the past couple years and whip out the guitars and wail and careen as if they were called The Madmen instead of just simply The Men. But you know what? It’s up to us ill-informed journos to connect the dots where there may not actually be any. And to make up dumb stuff in the process, probably. As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, right?
So with that in mind, it’s obvious that The Men have pored over the Touch & Go, SST, Amphetamine Reptile, and Alternative Tentacles catalogs from the 1980s and 1990s, as well as some other notable sources, and cherrypicked some key elements for a writhing, grinding post punk / noise rock hybrid that sounds as reckless as it is tightly wound. Remnants of The Stooges, obviously, Killdozer, Unsane, and early … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead records litter Leave Home like a roadmap of a disgusting forgotten highway littered with candy wrappers and empty cigarette packages. The asphalt is warped and cracked and you get a headache driving on it. It probably ends up in Centralia, Pennsylvania.
So, kids – this is definitely a record you want to play to annoy your parents.
But more than that, there’s a variety present along with the brutality of the record – even as every face-melting riff and bombed-out fuzz bassline seems well–planned out as well as flawlessly executed. The Men feature three songwriters out of the four full-time members, and you can hear it in the diversity of the songs, even though it still all ends up in a vaguely punkish realm. Take “If You Leave…” for instance – it begins the record with low-key sculpted feedback before giving way to bendy guitar tones. It’s here I should probably mention MBV, because once the band kicks in with that goopy, syrupy guitar tone, wavering with tremolo pressure and thick like a paint fume haze, it’s hard to ignore the comparison.
But The Men do not sound like MBV. This is a good thing. They have so much more to offer than mere genre worship.
The ripping scuzz of “Lotus” (a bit Drive Like Jehu-ish but less, I dunno, Froberg-y? How’s that for making up adjectives) and the Jesus Lizard/Unsane barrage of “Think” lay to rest any inclination you may have that we’re talking about a throwback shoegaze record. “Bataille,” named after the French writer, leaves a, wink wink, Trail of Dead in its wake, recalling the best moments of that band’s committed-to-a-destructive-level instrument violence. And hey, what do you know? “Bataille” landed on Pitchfork’s top 100 songs of 2011 list, at 71. That’s pretty good company to keep, I guess.
But they keep going in wild directions, like the Unsane-on-’ludes “L.A.D.O.C.H.,” on which it sounds like vital organs are violently ejected from the vocalist’s throat, the power-sludge of “(),” and the Funhouse kraut-punk jam of album closer “Night Landing.” What’s amazing is that this variety simply reinforces the viability that three dudes could come together with three separate perspectives, and yet could combine their obvious love of kamikaze rock-n-roll performance and musicianship into a singular cockeyed vision. That they built their notoriety on basement shows playing in front of thirty people at a time only reinforces their hard-won indie street cred. Does it matter that they’re from Brooklyn? After listening to Leave Home, you probably won’t care (or notice).
So even though their name, authoritative as it may be, serves as a masculine repurposing of the heretofore popular trend of feminizing male-led ensembles (see, for example, Girls, The Girls, Girls in the Eighties, Women, etc.), take it on my recommendation that you can look past its relative simplicity to find an album really worth digging into. And, yes, it is as masculine as it sounds. In fact, you’ll find this bumper sticker on the band’s merch table at their shows: “The Men: Feminizing Your Band Name Is for Sissies.” It’s a hot seller.
Just kidding. (See? The journalistic angle strikes again.)
RIYL: The Stooges, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Killdozer, Unsane, Pissed Jeans
“IF YOU LEAVE (live @ Sacred Bones Showcase)”
“BATAILLE (live @ Sacred Bones Showcase)”