by Stefanos Kiorpes
Brooklyn-based punk act the Men rose to a degree of prominence earlier in the decade with their 2011 effort Leave Home, a gritty, straightforward punk record that received a great deal of praise among critics. They followed this up a year after with Open Your Heart, which maintained the majority of the punk ethos as its predecessor while also incorporating a bevy of new influences into the mix, including but not limited to country, surf rock, americana, and classic rock. And for the most part, the mix worked pretty well; the combining of diverse influences within the album hardly ever seemed forced and made the album one of the more interesting punk releases in recent memory.
The band followed that album up with New Moon a year later, an album that relied more heavily on the diverse influences found on Open Your Heart and less on pure punk ethos. This album received more of a mixed reception than its predecessor, and for good reason. The album represented a bit of a forced evolution, as it seemed like the band was sonically evolving for the sake of evolving, with the diverse influences now being crammed into the album wherever the band could find a spot for them. Another year later, they followed up New Moon with Tomorrow’s Hits, which got nearly zero press and amounted to being nothing more than a slightly lesser version than the album that came before it. Then, two years later, they released 2016’s Devil Music, which did nothing to break the cycle that the band has been on.
The story of this band has essentially been that of quantity over quality – with the exception of 2015 and 2017, the Men have released a new record every year of this decade with diminishing returns. Every additional album this band has released has brought less press, less acclaim, and less sales. Now, we have their new album Drift, which was not so hotly anticipated by the broader music community – not a good start.
Drift doesn’t really do anything to buck the trend that the band has been on musically, it is still a veritable mish-mash of diverse influences. The album starts with ‘Maybe I’m Crazy,’ a solid track build upon a bassy, light distorted, and warbly riff which does a good job at carrying the track, and ‘When I Held You in My Arms’ dabbles in straight balladry. However, the lyrics of these songs are just as predictable and boilerplate as their titles would suggest.
Some tracks on this album are simply directionless and underwritten. ‘Sleep,’ for instance, is built upon a repetitive blueglass riff and attempts a buildup in energy by the band slowly incorporating new sounds throughout implying a climax that never came. ‘Final Prayer’ is also a song that attempts to build a sense of atmosphere and drama but in the end just falls flat on its face.
The album does have some notable musical highlights, for instance the college rock-inspired ‘Rose on Top of the World’ is built around a very pretty acoustic riff and features a very pleasant vocal line and while wearing its influences on its sleeve, building upon them instead of deriving a second-rate version. On ‘Killed Someone,’ the band notably revisit their punk roots in a way which contrasts the rest of the album, and they pull it off somewhat well in relation to the rest of the output. A track that sounds like it could have been off one of their earlier albums is certainly a welcome addition to this effort and gives it an additional jolt of energy.
Drift is a listenable and musically diverse affair, but it does nothing to buck the trend of the Men being a jack of all trades, master of none. The album has its moments for sure, and there isn’t anything on this album that is objectionably bad, but also very little that is memorably good. For better or for worse, this album is a natural continuation of what this band has been doing for the better part of this decade.