A few weeks back, Pitchfork’s Brandon Stousy interviewed Brooklyn noisemakers The Men and uncovered the startling revelation that they were… well, just a bunch of regular guys in a band. No image, no gimmick: just a band. In an age where it seems every breakthrough artist comes equipped with a ready-made back-story, it’s refreshing to see a group attracting hype through hard work and talent alone, and right now The Men – the brightest stars in the sparkling Sacred Bones roster – are making serious waves. Open Your Heart, the third full-length addition in the space of two years to a body of work that also includes numerous singles, split releases and limited run cassettes, is already being talked up by those who have heard it as a serious contender for 2012’s “album of the year” title, in itself a major victory for good old-fashioned rock & roll and a good indication of just how much the outfit has evolved over the past few months.
If 2010 debut Immaculada was the sound of three hardcore dudes trying their hand (and succeeding admirably) at black metal atmospherics, Krautrock and Earth-style drone compositions, and last year’s excellent Leave Home saw them embracing melody and structure without sacrificing their brutal edge, Open Your Heart ties together all the best bits of both albums and polishes them up into a non-stop, no-filler thrill ride. This blossoming is doubtless thanks in part to an expanded line-up; whereas on its predecessors the core trio – bassist Chris Hansell and guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi – all shared vocal duties and kept the beat as best they could, the addition of full-time drummer Rich Samis has not only added real rhythmic heft but also freed up Mark and Nick to indulge in some electrifying dual-axe interplay, allowing for a more natural, live band sound.
And what a band it transpires they are: as hinted at by the Buzzcocks-riffing title track, these guys have developed into an adrenalized – and, whisper it , accessible – punk rock & roll unit of a caliber (see also Love As Laughter, Titus Andronicus) that is all too rare these days. From the explosive opening one-two punch of “Turn It Around” and “Animal” (Hansell’s finest moment and a fitting legacy – he and the group have since parted ways, his place now filled by Ben Greenberg of Zs/ Hubble, who engineered the album) to the triumphant roar of closer “Ex-Dreams”, the majority of Open Your Heart flies by at such a breakneck pace that the occasional slower songs – space-rock Spaghetti Western theme “Country Song”, droning seven minute psych-out “Presence” – serve as necessary breathers. Like the greatest bands of their ilk (the Clash, the Replacements, Sonic Youth) the Men seem to have an instinctive grasp of just how much experimentation a 45-minute album can stand, and these deviations, plus metronomic Neu! homage “Oscillation” and mid-paced country rocker “Candy”, strike the perfect balance.
So, will Open Your Heart be the best LP of 2012? Who knows; if I could see into the future I dare say I’d be using that ability for more lucrative purposes than writing music reviews, but whilst it’s quite likely that something more innovative, more “deserving”, will come along this is the kind of record that scythes through superficial bullshit like year-end lists and touches on something almost primal in its simplicity. This is a band at what must surely be their peak, breaking out with one of the finest rock albums of the past decade, and if anything else over the next ten months proves as thrillingly, addictively enjoyable as Open Your Heart, this will be a year to remember for all the right reasons.
Open Your Heart is out March 6 on Sacred Bones