Muting the guitars allows the Men to explore new forms of intensity with vocals and alternate instrumentation.
The Men may be one of the best rock bands of the past decade, but unless you’re already a fan you probably don’t realize how many albums they’ve made or that their approach has varied, sometimes drastically. From aggressive, garage and punk-inspired music to folkier songs verging on country, the group has never been afraid of letting their influences take them where they may, whether it be early rock ’n’ roll, psychedelia, horn-driven soul or noise. Despite that range, even fans are likely to be surprised by the radical departure of their seventh album, Drift. The music is as intense as ever, but by different means—there are guitars, sure, but used in unexpected and non-obvious ways, especially for a band so good at rocking out. The good news is that muting the guitars allows the band to explore new forms of intensity with vocals and alternate instrumentation.
The album opens with the near-industrial pulse of “Maybe I’m Crazy,” followed by the Lennon-esque slow-burner “When I Held You in My Arms” and the kraut-rock-inspired “Secret Light,” with its insistent groove, whispered vocals and vamping keyboard.
Tasteful acoustic guitar licks appear on “Rose on Top of the World,” which starts off sounding like a song you could imagine the Grateful Dead playing. Its lyrics are not the most compelling but, for those of us who consistently enjoy The Men’s vocal choices, the song has a resonance beyond its lyrical content, especially when the electric guitar solo kicks in to fill in the spaces where the words alone cannot reach.
Each new song seems to bring in a new ingredient. “So High” introduces harmonica and a quite cinematic sonic palette that suggests something out of a Wim Wenders movie. “Killed Someone,” meanwhile, returns us to a compressed, power-chord driven sound replete with Stooges licks. The lyrics are indiscernible, but the song will please old-school fans of the band, if only for its visceral effect.
Acoustic territory is mined once more for “Sleep,” which, apart from its well-played minor-key arpeggios, does not go anywhere in particular, before the band turns to “Final Prayer,” another slow-burner that unfolds entrancingly and pairs spoken and sung vocals to great hypnotic effect.
“Come to Me” concludes the album on another acoustic note. The tasteful pedal steel touches in the background, complementing the song’s disarmingly romantic lyrics, contributes to the success of the song, which has a kind of Nick Drake-meets-the Great Plains feel.
Overall, fans of The Men can only be happy that, in about a decade, the band has managed to cover this much musical ground without ever seeming to dial it in or rest on their laurels, unlike so many bands of the same period. Working hard to bring quality to each new release, the group is still not as well-known as it should be, but is cementing its place as one of the most consistent and durable outfits in contemporary rock.