In the rare case of the Men, integrity spurs change – if not vice versa. The Brooklyn stalwarts have gone through several distinct phases at a machine-gun pace, spawning two sprawling (and scary) post-hardcore gems, a melodious indie rock follower, Open Your Heart, an unapologetic dive into the realm of jammy hard rock (on last year’s New Moon), and, finally, an EP of acoustic campfire songs titled nothing other than Campfire Songs. And all that in just over three years. Yet, it only takes an earnest attempt to visit the band’s Facebook (which they don’t have) and follow them on Twitter (nope, not that either), or to stumble on literally any interview with the group to figure out that a firm combination of principle and tenacity is what brings all these releases together, and also happens to be the impetus behind the band’s chameleonic, indomitable creative momentum. The Men make whatever kind of music they want to, whenever they want to, whether you place expectations on them or don’t give a rat’s ass.
The news that Tomorrow’s Hits, the band’s fourth LP for NY label Sacred Bones, was recorded even before 2013’s folkish New Moon adds to the apparent haphazardness of the Men’s trajectory; so does the fact that music-wise, Hits is a totally different beast, too. The album is the band’s most concise, poppy, and swinging record to date; it was composed and recorded in mere days during a creative binge at Brooklyn’s Strange Weather studios, and that shows. The energy of the album is that of spontaneous sonic ad-libbing, as understood by a certain lightness derived from almost palpable lack of perfectionism. Yet when it comes to the wealth of melody and the charisma of the material – the way Tomorrow’s Hits strives to form a meaningful relationship with the listener, precisely the way 1970s rock music did for boys and girls listening to vinyl records in their bedrooms – this is the Men’s most perfect album yet.
What about Open Your Heart, you might ask, the 2012 LP whose focus on rapid pop eruptions was largely responsible for the band’s breakthrough? Well, Open Your Heart relied on the type of songwriting that’s immediately accessible, but utimately doesn’t stay with you too long, just like a Blondie song heard in supermarket that might get stuck in your eat for about half an hour. Tomorrow’s Hits goes for a much more classic approach to structuring songs, where catchiness is the byproduct of collective skill, and not simply a means to no end. That’s why the album boasts some of the Men’s most rewarding songs, with chord progressions that make sense and surprise simultaneously, basslines that add on to the melodiousness rather than reinforce the beat, and soloing that’s just the right amount of showmanship and virtuosity to embellish, and not to bore.
The album’s focus on rock history mythologizing extends to the lyrics, too; opener and first single “Dark Waltz” kicks off with a hooking line “My mom gave me this guitar /1974 and it’s true / Now there’s nothing I’d rather do,” nodding to anyone from Pete Seger and the Byrds to the Minutemen to Sebadoh, but also reinforcing a trope that fits the band incredibly well: one that could be described as rockism in its most life-affirming incarnation. And as much as “Dark Waltz”’s quickly changing chords and punchy basslines could be easily translated to a commercial pop sound without losing much appeal, make no mistake: Tomorrow’s Hits, with its subconscious Big Star nods, big melodies, and beat-driven genuineness, is a rock album in that purist sense – youthful yet life-weary at the same time.
Which is not to say that it’s a pefect album. For one thing, Tomorrow’s Hits doesn’t take its strong suits far enough. “Another Night” introduces a blaring horn section that complements the sharp, ping-pong strokes of the guitars beautifully. However, we hardly get to hear those horns again; they only reappear covered with layers of racket in the fairly bland rocker of “Pearly Gates.” Same with the musical appropriation to the album’s #1 Record-like cover: the aesthetic of power-pop sticks its head out in the peppy “Different Days,” but then doesn’t get another chance to make a proper entrance. Guitarist Nick Chiericozzi admits the band was inspired by short rock albums and I can only say hell-yes to that, but it seems like there’s almost too much content on Tomorrow’s Hits to be crammed into these eight songs. And, if it was any other band, we could easily hope for all these ideas to be built upon on future releases, but you never know with the Men – they might be making techno by next week.