Steve Wilson. On music.

Friday, January 11, 2013

At No. 15 ... The Men - Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)

The end of the old year and the beginning of the new one provide a rare, but appropriate time to look back. That means doing something Reverberations doesn't do a great deal, re-posting previous reviews. We did so, of course, throughout the Top 10 Countdown; three of the top 10 (okay, eleven technically) required new reviews, but eight were previously reviewed. 

Why do this? Two reasons: first, these are really good records, deserving of a second look and a extra bit of love; second, it allows Reverberations a bit more love, attention and traffic for engaging in reason number one. You know?

Over the coming days we'll take a look at albums 11-20 (counting up after counting down!), the ones narrowly missing the Top 10 Countdown.

At No. 15, from a previous published review (April 2012), here's ...

The Men - Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)

The Men are men (well, you never know) from Brooklyn. And unlike your average twenty-somethings from Gotham’s most populous borough they don’t sound like lapsed graduate students trying to justify their career choice to their parents by claiming their new album is a master’s thesis on some obscure aesthetic strategy. Shit, no. They sound like a damned rock band. This is rock as bedrock – elemental, dedicated to the proposition that every dumb ass that queried “is rock dead?” should be hit with a sledgehammer - as if Little Richard could ever die. I’ve heard Leave Home (yes, borrowed from the Ramones, paragons of college rock sophistication). I haven’t heard their earliest music. Their new album Open Your Heart represents gravitation toward what the average rock fan might call listenable. Take that, hipsters! 

But really, they don’t sound like they give two shits. Which always makes for great rock and roll. Ya think the Stones agonized over how Beggars Banquet would be received by an audience taught to anticipate lysergic spew? Hell, no. And by God, Open Your Heart is a sort of Beggars for a generation raised on racket. Oh, I’ve heard little college-rocker journalists bring up Husker Du and Black Flag and SST and Homestead and Dischord labels and whatever else. I guess. But mostly I hear the swirling missionary positions of everyone from the Stooges to Jane’s Addiction (and a certain kinship with Icarus Line). And of course the noise monkey grooving of everyone from Spaceman 3 to Sonic Youth to - I dunno, the Swans? 

The Men aren't remarkable songwriters. The singing of guitarists Mark Perro and Mick Chiericozzi is generally a tune-wobbly bray. And they don't sing much. Fully half of the ten songs on Open Your Heart are instrumentals or near-instrumentals. Damned if it isn't pretty great.

Like fellow Brooklynites Endless Boogie, The Men follow the dharma of a certain groove. It's not a funk groove. But hey, there are all kinds of grooves. Bo Diddley had one. John Lee Hooker. Hell, the Velvets did. The Men don't really inhabit the same groove paradigm as Endless Boogie. The Boogies are more blues-based, T.S. McPhee-worshipping stoner-rock (Canned Heat, Humble Pie, Exile era Stones minus arrangements) than the Men, whose idea of an endless jam is about one-third the length of an Endless Boogie excursion. Plus, the Men's 'jams' are actually pretty composed, structured, almost surgical. And their longest is just over seven minutes. 

"Country Song," the third track, and first of the "instrumentals," is a slow-down, chill pill, or so it functions after two raucous opening cuts. Taking Terry Reid's "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace" riff (or part of it) into Children of the Future vintage Steve Miller Band space cowboy jam land, it's zoned out late-night driving music. Slide guitars swoon, when Rich Samis’s drums fall in they swing as much as they rock (nice touch) and gradually you're driving down that "Moonlight Mile" into a land of pure tremolo, light show heaven. When you start the car in the morning your ears bleed, remembering just how high you had this shit turned up.

"Country Song" follows the opening, one-two party salvo of "Turn it Around" and "Animal." The former is a "Ramblin' Rose" style mosh pit solicitation, all blazing MC5/Blue Oyster Cult guitar riffery and a lyric so simple it follows the ninth-verse-same-as-the first formula that's grown out of the Ramones school of say it once why say anything else. 'Animal" is all growling proof of its' title, suggesting that your pretty face is going to hell ... on the F train.

"Oscillation" follows "Country Song" - segues right into it. At about 2:50 guitar lines spiral into shades of Tom and Richard (Television, that fluttering bell-like sound), or Explosions in the Sky. Of course the twin specters of Spaceman 3 and Sonic Youth are all over these sounds, especially Jason Pierce's reverb/echo/delay/tremolo heavy guitar sound. "Please Don't Go Away" surges with Hawkwind over-drive and a dash of the Edge's guitar chime; Beach Boys/Four Season's "oohs" drown out what passes for a lead vocal. And the sound moves forward relentlessly.

The title track, as has been widely observed in the rock writer fraternity, is a stepchild of the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love." Nice call, kids. Of course y'all have missed that instead of Diggles' tart, terse, single-note fills the Men juxtapose the basic rhythm guitar with the roiling, arpeggiated sound of Keith Levene's playing on P.I.L.'s brand name song ("Public Image"). "Open Your Heart" is palpably tense and as close to pop as The Men get, at the same time.

The lads break out the acoustics for "Candy." You can hear the lyrics once the band unplugs. Heck, they're practically verbose for this song, suspecting I suppose that they should say something since their finally being heard. Evocative lyrically of "Before They Make Me Run" and "Lonely Planet Boy" (basic atmosphere), "Candy" is about a guy who's been "to the darkest places ... and been a total mess." But his solution isn't a job on Wall Street, apparently. Nope, he also sings, "I just quit my job and I can stay out all night long" - maybe a little older and wiser this time. Here in relative repose you hear where the Men are coming from. They are guys pushing (or pushing past) thirty, making a racket for a (almost) living and happy to have the calling to do so.

The calm breaks with "Cub," a pummeling tour de force of hard rock concept. Swirling, aggravated guitar lines, reminiscent of the Manic Street Preacher's Holy Bible, played with the crystal jag thrash of Bad Brains. Phased harp leads to splenetic guitar leads to a near-metal turnaround straight outta Sabs and into a wah-wah solo. All this in about two minutes.

"Presence," title notwithstanding, is more Street Hassle than Zep. "Ex-Dreams" culminates Open Your Heart - the most Sonic Youth-like cut on an album saturated in Thurston and Lee-isms. Built for performance with two, separate "put your hands together" drum breaks, it's a transcendent study in rock guitar noise, and a fit ending to the album.

It's less brittle and distant than the band's earlier work, but Open Your Heart is hardly compromised. It's the sound of an urban rock outfit committed to the performance idiom, reaching out to its audience.

Reverberating: 8.5