(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Recording review - The Men, Open Your Heart (2012)

Garage punk rockers with a predilection for psychedelia

I first heard The Men when they released their Record Store Day single, A Minor (review). That track serves as a good intro to what this band does well. Over the course of eight minutes it builds an extended hypnotic trip that culminates in a harder edged heavy metal grind. That balance of soft and hard is the core of the band's musical approach.

Open Your Heart offers a cathartic session of low-fi garage rockers bordering on punk, stirred together with therapeutic waves of layered psychedelia. The playlist encourages a kind of clench-release, starting with the driving retro rock of Turn It Around. The thrashy energy and frantic pace hits like the Kinks on speed. The solo kicks off with a guitar tone stolen from the Guess Who. The song's second solo sets up an instrumental breakdown whose tom punches set up the heavier punk slap of the second track, Animal.

After the manic energy of these two tracks, The Men break their pace to explore their trippy side. The contrast between the opening tracks and Country Song is staggering. It's not just the tempo change, it's an aesthetic shift that creates a huge feeling of release. Country Song sounds like More era Pink Floyd jamming with Jerry Garcia. Like an outtake from the soundtrack to Zabriskie Point, sun glared steel guitar filtered through heat shimmers of tremolo fill out this desert bleached psychedelic jam. Repetitive and slow, it folds in layers of lethargic haze. The Men use a trick from A Minor and fade out into a new song to extend the track. This tacked-on segment is a minimalist whirling chord instead of A Minor's acid rock jam, but it's still interesting. The simple wash subsides into the looping meditation of Oscillation.

Open Your Heart then resets into higher energy music with Please Don't Go Away. This time around, they branch out into some interesting variations. Later, the title track channels the raw emotion and desperate need of Paul Westerberg and the Replacements. The guitar thrash and fill heavy drum work are insistent. The Men revisit that sound a couple of songs later on Cube. This time more of the raw punk flail and heavier guitar lead shine through the track.

The rhythm and flow of Open Your Heart create a contrasting consistency that intensifies the cathartic feel of the music. Like a sharp inhale paired with an extended exhale, there's a natural balance.

As an aside, A Minor is available as a bonus track if you buy Open Your Heart on iTunes.

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