‘Drift’ is a celebration of ten years of The Men. The Brooklyn-based post-punk outfit, guided by singers/songwriters Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi, has had a likeable lifespan, with core components of energy and a fondness for noise – but as The Men turn ten, they’re more and more willing to drift away from what previously defined them.
With good intentions brought on by a desire to think outside the box, the creative box that mostly contains electric guitars and other prominent rock instruments, The Men have a lot of trouble turning their good intentions into anything positive. ‘Drift’ is all about rediscovery, about realising your capabilities, whether musically or emotional, but with a strong sense of absence and lethargy, The Men just sound fed up.
The reinvention started with 2016’s ‘Devil Music’, discarding the robust vigour of 2014’s ‘Tomorrow’s Hits’, but with a failure to truly honour any of the heroes of post-punk they were attempting to raise a glass to. Stilted and stoic, it continues with ‘Drift’, starting with the pseudo-industrial opener ‘Maybe I’m Crazy’, lathered with the pulsating synth wobbles of cyberpunk, but staying in the same flat mood throughout. ‘When I Held You In My Arms’, a tale of melancholy brought on by past love, with the bassline of an ‘80s underground indie band, tries to give off the same vibe of darkness, but the darkness is compressed and superficial, there’s a dimmer switch nearby just begging to be twisted.
After flushing their noise rock roots down an impressively-large toilet, The Men have struggled to come up with a core sound, and while it’s admirable to try out a few ideas at once, it does just sound like they’re throwing you-know-what at the wall. ‘Killed Someone’ actually feels like a breath of fresh air, allowing the band to show off their knack for noise – it’s a genuinely free-spirited hard rocker, with wailing electric guitars, but it’s sandwiched between Heartland Rock-gone-wrong ‘So High’, and faux-folk funeral ditty ‘Sleep’, with disingenuous choral gasps thrown around the track. Perro and Chiericozzi are at least skilful when it comes to selecting ‘which instrument goes where’, with ‘So High’ featuring a somewhat pleasant harmonica solo, with ‘Maybe I’m Crazy’ boasting some pretty impressive saxophone fills.
There’s more indie folk than anything on ‘Drift’, but the execution of the style isn’t convincing enough for us to start re-labelling The Men as a folk act. ‘Come to Me’ is like a so-so Fleet Foxes impersonation, but other than that, it’s hard to see where this desire for folk rock actually comes from, making it seem as though The Men have never really listened to that much acoustic music.
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‘Drift’ isn’t without any reward, the songwriting is more-or-less solid. It’s hard to tell what kind of audience The Men are trying to please, maybe they’re just trying to please themselves, and hopefully they’ve done so, but such a contrived attempt at stuffing muddled musical styles into an album, like lobsters into a boiling pot, is unlikely to go over well. But ‘trying to please everyone but pleasing no one’ isn’t even the approach’s biggest failure, it’s the fact that ‘Drift’ is the perfect example of an album that has no idea what it really wants to be.
‘Drift’ is out now via Sacred Bones Records