Reading too much into a band’s name is often a fool’s errand, and that goes double for a band with a handle as generic as The Men. But there’s something intriguing about the way that name has changed connotations over the past couple years. The group’s first two albums, Immaculada and Leave Home, erected a nearly inscrutable blur of hardcore-meets-shoegaze esoterica, one that rendered The Men some sort of faceless, mystique-shrouded cabal of noiseniks. Then came last year’s Open Your Heart, which ripped open the curtain to reveal a much more quotidian gathering of Men: a bunch of beer-doused dudes who play punchy, sloppy rock songs unafraid to grunt or gush. With New Moon, its fourth album, the group has introduced a new interpretation of The Men: fine, upstanding, face-forward members of the songwriting community.
It’s all right there—no veil drawn, no bets hedged—on New Moon’s gleefully on-the-nose opener, “Open The Door.” As lines like, “I wonder if you are thinking / About the words I am singing?” float through a keyboard-seasoned soup of hazy country-rock, The Men suddenly sound more like Wilco understudies than sorcerers of distortion. Even when songs like “The Brass” and “Electric” hurl themselves into orbit, a rootsy reserve tethers them. “The Seeds” may or may not be a tribute to the legendary garage-rock outfit; either way, its shaggy, shambling jangle is equal parts The Replacements’ “Left Of The Dial” and Meat Puppets’ “Swimming Ground.” And overall, the album lurches toward the corroded psychedelia of The Flaming Lips circa their tenure on Restless Records.
That’s where the ’80s-indie vibe ends, though. Open Your Heart is, among many other things, a love letter to SST-era guitar rock; New Moon is looser and less keen to be pinned down. Barring the overloaded closer, “Supermoon”—an eight-minute, Canned Heat-meets-Hawkwind freakout that remains the disc’s only link to The Men’s early output—New Moon bobs on a grassy, easygoing Americana vibe. The album’s best track, “Bird Song,” is also its most telling. Slathered in harmonica, chunky piano, and queasy slide guitar, it’s packed with hooks, boot-shuffling beats, and wine-drinking-with-friends sentimentality. In sound and essence, it evokes another generically named outfit: The Band. If that’s the route the group is headed down, it’ll be interesting to see what The Men might come to mean in the future. For now, though, New Moon stands as it is: a homey, gut-warming batch of tunes that erratically juggle nostalgia, craft, and ass-kicking abandon.