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The Men - Open Your Heart

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Artist: The Men

Album: Open Your Heart

Label: Sacred Bones

Review date: Feb. 27, 2012

Is 2012 the year punk breaks again? If so, who, whooo, WHOOOOOO will be the band to do it? We’re not talking 6 billion sold, MTV Music Awards, dead at 27 broken. Given the fact that 2 of these 3 career goals are no longer open to today’s young enterprising musician, is it even possible? It has been 20 years since “punk” (diy/youth culture) officially started putting up the kind of sales numbers that simply cannot be ignored by the music industry, and by default, the world. Time enough for alternative to take over, burn out, and see another, more withering strain of indie music rise in it’s wake to reclaim some of the lost billboard ground of the early ‘90’s.

From the mid-aughts up to...right about now, milquetoast has pretty much run the game in popular indie music. But lately the climate has begun to slowly shift. While there’s never been a lack of interesting music happening, if you’re receptive and looking, 2011 was one of the first really exciting years for new music in a while. Strictly focusing on the rock ‘n roll side, there were so many vital, promising records that it was hard to keep up at times. Even discounting the embarrassing amount of great music coming out of Australia, bands like Iceage, Milk Music and The Men all made strong records that referenced, to varying degrees, the traditional tenets of diy and punk. These bands updated, and injected life into a genre that’s been proclaimed dead repeatedly from almost the moment of it’s inception. More importantly, though, they brought this music back into a conversation (popular indie) that’s been heavily dominated by decidedly more flaccid sounds (chillwave, witch house, hypnagogic pop) for a while now.

The coming year promises to be interesting, the big question being: Can anyone capitalize on this momentum and make a record that transcends the niche audience that has embraced the aforementioned sounds? It’s hard to imagine a band like Iceage swinging far enough towards the pop spectrum, and away from the political/shock factor, to widen their appeal that much more -- at least not within the scale of time we’re working with. Milk Music have been growing by leaps and bounds, as anyone who’s caught a recent live show can attest, and could easily make the jump to at least Kurt Vile/War On Drugs popularity without too much stretch of the imagination. Never a band to be beholden to anyone’s hype but their own, though, they don’t seem to be in any great rush to push a record out. And the Australians...frankly just don’t seem to give a fuck if anyone is paying attention. Which leaves us with The Men, who, releasing their second record in a nine-month period, suddenly appear to be in pole position to capitalize on punk’s current cultural moment.

Leave Home had already been in the can for a minute by the time of the album’s actual release last year, and the band had reportedly wrapped up another new album by the time they started touring for it, testing a lot of the new songs out live. That album, Open Your Heart, is such a quantum leap forward that it almost feels like there could have been another, stepping stone record between it and Leave Home. Instead, The Men have wasted no time getting where they’re going, all but abandoning the sturm und drang blasts of their last album in favor of an unabashed tribute to the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. Considering that all of the band members now hover around 30, an album like this makes perfect sense right now -- guys that probably spent their 20s sorting through punk, post-hardcore, and all manner of extreme/experimental music and have come full circle back to the basic tenets of “what makes a good rock ‘n roll band?” First, do what comes naturally -- re-channel the music of your youth; in this case, the 1990s. OG YPG-ers (Year Punk Broke) Sonic Youth continue to be a touchstone on Open Your Heart, but what comes through here even more are the spirits of that era’s slightly more traditional “alterna” acts. Bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Rocket From The Crypt gradually extracted the classic/early rock ‘n roll core from punk, giving kids like me an entry point into things like Neil Young and The Rolling Stones -- things I had previously dismissed due to their presence in my Dad’s record collection. One can only hope that Open Your Heart could be that kind of record for someone coming of age right now.

While the overall sound here isn’t exactly unrecognizable from the band on Leave Home, there’s definitely way more going on in terms of range and risk-taking. This could be a polarizing album for anyone who went to this band for their aggro-noise fix. Not that they’ve lost any of the energy on display before, it’s just harnessed in different ways. “Turn It Around” and “Animal” get the album off to a furious start, channeling the mutant energy of RFTC/Hot Snakes and Comets On Fire, alternately. From here on in, they make nods to everything from space rock, cosmic country, ’80s college rock, and about every other significant offshoot of rock music from the past 40 years. (Don’t worry, post-punk and hardcore are two of them. But if you aren’t ready to hear slide guitar or a steel drum on your Men record, best check the new Iron Lung for empathy.)

Whether Open Your Heart is the kind of record capable of taking these guys to any kind of “next level” remains to be see. Certainly, this is the sound of a band reaching for something more without the anxiety of expectation weighing them down -- an invitation to open your heart and mind, and come along for the ride.

By Jon Treneff

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Leave Home

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