the men // open your heart
by jared silva
In an interview with Pitchfork Media a couple months ago, when speaking on the slight aesthetic changes of their first single “Open Your Heart” compared to work on their previous album Leave Home, guitarist/vocalist of Brooklyn outfit The Men Mark Perro and drummer Rich Samis had this to say:
MP: Leave Home is so loud and chaotic and noisy and distorted and all over the place that there was a conscious effort to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and put something together that’s more about the songs. Listening to that album a year later, we were like, “Man, we need to rein this in a little bit.”
RS: Sorry, fans of Leave Home. Basically, it’s a different band now, too.
And he wasn’t kidding. While the original sonic core of The Men never really leaves on Open Your Heart, their third LP to date, the album’s change is incredibly noticeable. The key difference is how the band sets itself away from making strictly intense, deafening, speakers-turned-to-11 noise punk and into a much more accessible and well-paced take on the great classic rock bands of the 70s with a gnarly twist. The end product is a well-defined and technically impressive record unlike anything The Men have ever released before in their career.
The opener to the album “Turn It Around” is a great song to examine the new sound they’re going for. On Leave Home, their opener “If You Leave…” starts slow and mystical and eventually builds up to an impressively woven instrumental shoegaze performance, showcasing their great sense of control with the chaos they create as a band. Here on Open Your Heart, they get down to brass tacks with a bluesy guitar riff intro similar to The Doobie Brother’s “China Grove.” Once the first cymbal crash hits a couple seconds later, the song really takes off. It’s jam packed with menacing layered guitars blaring, powerful floor toms pounding, and clean vocals (a first for the band) replacing the usually inaudible, fierce howling.
Throughout Open Your Heart are some great genre-bending songs, taking on many different approaches for the band. “Candy” is the total opposite of anything they have ever recorded before: a delicate acoustic love song in the realm of John Fahey or even the bluesier side of The Rolling Stones. It’s actually smooth and quaint, which is initially off-putting coming from a band known to use every instrument at max capacity. The style choice is completely unexpected, but what doesn’t make it seem out of place is how sincere and real it sounds, and not just a carbon copy or parody of itself. Another example is with “Presence,” which sounds like Led Zeppelin if they ever had a psychedelic period. Low and moody it starts as it transcends into a trippy, guitar heavy abyss complete with ghostly “ahhhs” heard backing the entire time.
There are a couple instrumental routes taken too, as seen on “Country Song” and “Oscillation.” These two songs in particular compliment each other so perfectly together. The first features a strongly reverbed, twangy guitar melody gently echoing in an empty room (the closest we’ll ever see them get to be ”country”), with drum fills and distorted guitars coming in soon after. Once the slow paced song ends, the second one kicks in and taking the same instrumental platform, but speeding it up gradually. A higher octave guitar melody replaces the twang from “Country Song” and not soon after surprises you with a destructive signature ending that they’re known for.
Once the album comes to a finish with their mostly instrumental track “Ex-Dreams,” you’ll have heard what seems like a completely new band. The collection of songs here have more structure and depth to them than their last albums and they make it seem too easy to accomplish. There are still some favorites on here that reminds us their earlier work, like the relentless works of art ”Please Don’t Go Away” and “Cube,” but if there’s one thing The Men prove here with Open Your Heart, it’s that you don’t need some special catch or gimmick in order to make great music. The Men achieve the fantastic balance of sticking to the roots of heavy rock and roll while still innovating on top of that with their fresh attitude and ability to grow as a band. It’s a hard task to take on, but Open Your Heart pulls this off in spades, making it easily one of the best records of the year so far.
favorite tracks // “open your heart,” “candy,” “country song,” “ex-dreams”
Listen to more from The Men now, via Spotify.