Somebody in New York wrecking crew the Men always seems to know what is going to happen more than a year in advance. New album Open Your Heart was recorded in 2011, while previous album Leave Home was busy bludgeoning its way into the hearts of critics and listeners, garnering the band higher degrees of recognition and exposure. One listen to this new album makes it seem like they knew they would be playing to larger audiences by this time this year.
While the Men's telepathic abilities are still up for debate, a couple of things are undeniable: despite making nods to song and riff structures that popped up on past releases, Open Your Heart is the most accessible thing the Men have done, and marks an almost clean break from the chaos of their previous albums. "Almost," because things thankfully remain loud, pretty dirty, and rooted in the house-leveling rock and roll tradition.
Opener "Turn It Around" kicks off with a riff that is basically a major key flip of the intros to Leave Home tracks "()" and "Bataille" before launching into a stampeding song full of squealing solos and twangy lead parts. When guitarist/vocalist Nick Chiericozzi declares that he "wants to hear you write a love song," it becomes immediately clear that things are going to be much more celebratory and bright this time around. It's a sentiment that definitely sticks throughout the album, culminating in mid-album pair "Oscillation" and "Please Don't Go Away." The former track rises from formless murk into a breezy array of guitar noodlings and ambient background chug, given pulse by new drummer Rich Samis. The euphoria reaches a peak on the latter track, with it's Broken Social Scene-style falsetto "woos" and yearning repetition of the song's title. Things then take a more somber, yet no less propulsive turn on the album's title track, which calls to mind the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen In Love" as performed by Dinosaur Jr. Closer "Ex-Dreams" might just be the finest moment here, starting as a psych-tinged Husker Du-esque instrumental before effortlessly sliding into a pair of wistful verses that culminate in full-band bashes.
But for all of the good things happening on Open Your Heart, it's also an album that finds the Men re-indulging in some past mistakes. Their debut album Immaculada saw them all over the map, dabbling in slight genre tourism that never really played to their strengths. Leave Home largely excised this, but Open Your Heart is stuck with stuff like the lazily named "Country Song," which sounds like it was recorded despite not developing far beyond a practice room sketch. Then there's their actual stab at a country song, "Candy," which doesn't amount to much more than a prototypical slacker anthem (the first lyric actually being "I just quit my job/now I can stay out all night long"). The Men can do more atmospheric work just fine, as long as it eventually hits the ground running, something penultimate track "Presence" completely fails to achieve, instead stumbling about in a droning, narcoticized haze before tripping and falling into its conclusion.
Ultimately, Open Your Heart is a transitory album, that as mentioned before, predates its actual transitions. It's an album that purges the nastiness of its predecessor and switches things up enough without sacrificing its power, a template that hopefuly they remember to follow.