The Men follow their muse — wherever it might lead
The first words sung on Tomorrow’s Hits, the latest missive from Brooklyn rock band The Men, are telling.
“My mom gave me this guitar in 19 and 74,” guitarist Mark Perro sings on “Dark Waltz.” “Now, there’s nothing I’d rather do.”
Certainly, there’s little Perro and his mates would rather do than choke songs out of their guitars. Since forming in 2008, The Men have done little else: Tomorrow’s Hits is the band’s fifth record in as many years, discounting 2013’s gap-filling alternate-takes collection Campfire Songs. And the band is as hardworking as it is prolific, stringing together a seemingly infinite number of tour dates. The Men’s current tour, a monthlong jaunt, comes to The Mothlight on Thursday, May 1.
Though “hardworking” is often a polite knock when used to describe a band, it fits The Men’s old-school, DIY, follow-no-trend spirit. “It’s what you do if you’re in a band,” says drummer Rich Samis. “You go on tour, you record records, and you don’t really think anything of it. But from the outside, it seems like, ‘Oh my god! You guys are going crazy!’”
But The Men, more than most, is a band in constant flux. That restless energy comes from a dogged pursuit of the group’s ever-shifting muse. Befitting of a band whose name implies no particular sonic connotations, The Men freely explore rock ’n’ roll’s varied guitar-based subgenres. As such, the band’s evolution has been swift and drastic: From the sandblasted noise-rock of 2010’s Immaculada and 2011’s raw-edged post-punk of Leave Home, The Men moved toward ’80s indie-rock homage on 2012’s Open Your Heart and rangy, amped-up Americana on last year’s New Moon.
“It just kind of happens with the progression of time and experimenting with different sounds,” Samis says of those tectonic shifts. “It comes pretty naturally. If we tried to plan it out in advance, we’d fail. It wouldn’t come across the same way.” Tomorrow’s Hits finds The Men mellowing out even further, looking backward into the annals of American rock. The album showcases a band entrenched in nostalgic rock classicism, dripping with Replacements-ish chooglers (“Get What You Give”), Crazy Horse heatwaves (“Dark Waltz”) and ambling country-rock lopers (“Sleepless”).
But Tomorrow’s Hits peaks when evoking the explosive elements of its back catalog. The six-minute screecher “Pearly Gates” packs its Chuck Berry boogie with abrasive screams and an acerbic tempo redolent of Leave Home. Prickly minor-key rocker “Going Down” recalls the pinned-tachometer fury of Open Your Heart lead track “Turn It Around.” “Different Days,” the record’s standout, marries hard-core heft with existential 30-something angst. Over its furious riffing, bassist Ben Greenberg howls, “I waiting for this high to fade / And I hate being young!”
While its disparate elements lend the band great elasticity, The bar-band bangers of Tomorrow’s Hits sound decades removed from Immaculada. But, Samis says, that’s because the band is, if only metaphorically, decades removed from it.
“The more we play out and record, the more I’ve come to look at records as a document of us at that point in time,” Samis says. “The songs could become anything. A lot of times, when we record [an album], we’ll play songs out live a bunch afterward, and they start to change and mutate, and they become a different thing.” He points to a few songs that now exist in different forms, like “Supermoon,” the electrifying, earth-churning mega-jam that closes New Moon, and “Lazarus,” one of the more complex paint-peelers from Immaculada. He concedes, though, that revisiting and reshaping older material has occasionally ruffled a few feathers — one doesn’t go from eliciting Big Black comparisons to Bruce Springsteen analogies without a little blowback from die-hards.
“It’s inevitable,” Samis says. “Someone’s going to like a version they hear on record and want to hear that translated exactly [live] how they hear that on record. And sometimes, that’s impossible.”
Given their stylistic zigzagging, The Men certainly can’t claim a master plan. And while the freewheelin’ rock of Tomorrow’s Hits is less ambitious and less surprising than The Men’s superlative, supercharged earlier work, it’s no less lively. Even if The Men don’t know what they’re doing next, they know what they’re doing for now. And they’ll continue to do whatever they want, to wrestle whatever songs out of their instruments in continued service of their shifting interests.
The Men with Nude Beach
The Mothlight, themothlight.com
Thursday, May 1, at 9:30 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show