The Men: Playing On Prefix

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Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week.

Something happens when I listen to The Men’s latest LP, “Open Your Heart”.

I get angry.

But not that surface level, teenager style anger, one that provokes a quick reaction like, say, someone cutting me off in traffic or a waiter messing up my order.

Rather, it’s a more subtle, more complicated anger. A good anger. An anger that can be appreciated. The kind that creates frustration, whether that’s with money, with politics, with music, with whatever. The kind of anger that drives me to reflection on my life and my decisions. It’s inescapable and, at the same time, exhilarating.

In short, “Open Your Heart” is one hell of a listen.

The Men – Open Your Heart by Cargo_Promo

The LP is different than the Men’s previous acclaimed “Leave Home”, but this is not a bad thing at all. Even they’ve admitted to it. In an interview with Pitchfork, drummer Rich Samis said, “Sorry, fans of “Leave Home”. Basically, it’s a different band now.” And that’s evident in their sound. Gone are the overwhelming, skuzzy vocals over a guitar-tinged blitz. They’ve been replaced with a more reserved and accessible approach. Among the album’s chaotic and sometimes overwhelming clutter is a sooth, calming steadiness in the vocals.

Take the track “Please Don’t Go Away“, found in the heart of the album. It represents everything that the record strives for. On top of an onslaught of guitars, the lyrics provide a simple refrain: “Please, don’t go away.” It repeats itself over and over, and through that gains more and more power throughout the track, despite not changing tonally or dynamically in any way. The slow, melodic repetition allows the message, one of longing for a lover (which is both extraordinarily simple and complex at the same time), to irk its way into our brains until the end when we’re left feeling isolated, alone and, of course, angry.

Or listen to “Candy”, a lovely, whimsical song that’s reminiscent of those Joey Ramone penned ballads from the early days of punk, like “Needles and Pins.” The carefree lyrics of “Candy” (“I just quit my job now I can stay out all night long / And where my mind is tomorrow, it don’t matter till the dawn / I can go to a million places, can sing a thousand songs / Till my mind is made-up, I’ll be really, really gone”) offer a portrait of a man who’s broken by exhaustion yet, in some twisted way, he’s perfectly fine with it. He doesn’t necessarily want to get better or “find himself” or any of those other clichés. He’s accepted it, and he just wants to exist. It’s heartbreaking, really, because often there’s nothing scarier than complacency.

Don’t worry, to those of you who’ve embraced the band’s gender dynamic – The Men still sound very manly.

But rather than a bunch of boys playing guitars and screaming into microphones with the volume of all of it turned up to 11, they’ve grown up, learned how to sort through their emotions and their sound. Hell, you might even say they learned to act like “real” men.

“Open Your Heart” came out last week on Sacred Bones Records and the band is playing a showcase at SXSW on Wednesday.

By Eric Sundermann