Delving deep into music and the cultural abyss of the 21st century.

Open Your Heart To Rock n’ Roll

The Men just released their newest album Open Your Heart on March 6, 2012 to what appears to be universal acclaim and excitement. This gradual ascension to the top of the indie rock internet hype pantheon has seemed inevitable for The Men after their previous album Leave Home was an honorable mention on Pitchfork’s Best of 2011 year wrap-up and they released a killer first single (the s/t track) from the new album. But the question I keep asking myself with this new Men album is, is the widespread acclaim warranted? Or are we a culture so hungry for straight no-bullshit rock n’ roll that we want to love this album regardless?

Open Your Heart, right now has a metascore of 87 out of 100 on Metacritic. To expand further on this 87, other albums with this score include Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and  Pink Floyd’s The Wall. So The Men are rubbing elbows with some of music’s finest (I was hoping Elbow was up there just so I could say rubbing elbows with Elbow, but it was not to be). Not bad for a band on their second proper album and first with a new rhythm section. So is this right? Is this wrong? I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

On one hand, Open Your Heart is a rollicking, face-melter of an album. I put it on in my car on a warm night with the windows down, and it almost made me forget I was driving a white Jetta. It’s recalls Grant Hart led Husker Du with elements of hardcore punk, kraut, shoegaze, and alt-country sprinkled in. Frost that muther with some searing lead guitar, bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes and you have an album. It’s a solid album, not luminary, and the vocals are mixed too low (nerd alert). But what it does provide is something that new indie rock in general has been missing for what seems like a long time: the fearlessness to rock. 

Indie rock of the 2010’s (and probably before that) has seemed cold, calculated, and a bit faceless. Quick! Name 3 or 4 indie guitar players under 35 years old that have a distinct sound. Oh that’s right, that’ not possible. It does not say a whole lot for my generation that some of the most visceral rock n’ roll created today is done by 40 year old dads (Grinderman, Sonic Youth, etc.). Too often it sounds like the band is more concerned about a certain image, sound, or style than just playing their instruments and letting it all hang out. I think many people feel that way. I believe there is a hunger out there for real rock n’ roll music. There is no denying that real powerful rock n’ roll music does something to your brain, body, and innards which other music does not. Which explains the reaction to The Men. Are we going to look at this album in 10-15 years and put it on the same level as The Wall or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? It is impossible to know that answer. But its easy to see how a band like The Men who are willing to put it out there like its 1987 and they’re signed to SST Records, capture a feeling or a sense of nostalgia. I think that the step The Men have taken here gets me more excited for their third release more than anything else. 

So while this album should be bought and spun in CD players, turntables, and whatever iPods do, it brings us to the more important question: Why have people forgotten how to make good rock n’ roll music? It’s not hard, it’s 1/4 talent, 3/4 balls. Have we as a society become too complacent, too content to look at our phones all day, and just listen to recycled synth garble? I think that this album shows us that we have. If we have to lift someone up to remind us of how powerful rock n’roll can be, then so be it.

Say what you will about Pitchfork, but over the years I have been able to find out about dozens of bands that I normally would never encounter because of their reviews and year end lists. This year was no different, as one of my favorite and best 2011 year end discoveries, was The Men.

One of the true problems with music today is that very very few bands can make decent heavy, aggressive music. That doesn’t mean bands aren’t trying, just that most of them are very bad at what they do. They always seem to come off as screamo, emo, nu-metal, or post-grunge bullshit. 1/10 bands that attempt to make heavy, angry music in today’s scene do it well. I crave the next Husker Du, Jesus Lizard, or Black Flag. Bands that made heavy music worth paying attention to. This year, in my opinion, we have had two steps in the right direction with The Men and Iceage. Two young bands that are pissed off and have the chops to show it.The Men have been able to incorporate drone, kraut-rock, punk, indie, and post-punk into a coherent blur of awesomeness. It’s easy to be heavy, but it’s not easy to make heavy music that can also be valued as art. Also, bonus points for already having a follow up album due in March. 2 years, 2 albums. What is this? 1967?