The Men’s new album, Devil Music seems like an anvil the band had to get off their chest. Having courted FM rock with their last two albums, The Men have returned to the manic urgency of their early roots. With Devil Music, The Men have managed to follow up their most accessible record, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Hits, with their most inaccessible. It’s a move not altogether surprising. Over the course of their short career, this Brooklyn post-punk band has demonstrated sharp, stylistic fluctuations: from the rabid hardcore of ‘Leave Home’ to the artful post-punk of ‘Open Your Heart’, the rousing campfire songs of ‘New Moon’, and the radio-smooth ‘Tomorrow’s Hits’. But fans of The Men, in all of the band’s musical variations, might be put off by the sheer ill-will of Devil Music.
Devil Music is an angry, dry retch of an album, spat out in a matter of days using deliberately crude recording techniques. Anyone who has plugged a guitar into a Gorilla amp in their bedroom, and bounced a riff around the walls, will appreciate the tone of the album. Devil Music belongs to that class of album whose production is a major talking point: think the amateur field recording of Ariel Pink’s The Doldrums, the compressed sound of Faith No More’s The Real Thing, or David Bowie’s neutered mix of The Stooges’ Raw Power. Indeed, the production on Devil Music recalls the lo-fi ethos held dear by second wave Black Metal acts, such as Mayhem and Burzum. Even the cover art on Devil Music could be mistaken for that of a Black Metal album, its disturbing black and white image evoking the nihilism preached by that genre.
Devil Music’s opening salvo is exhilarating—‘Dreamer’, ‘Crime’, ‘Ridin’ On’ are all excellent tracks, and kick off the record with an immediate crescendo. You can still hear The Men beneath the raw production: the simple, but dramatic chord changes, the signature pulse of the rhythm section, the desperate vocals. But what starts off as a blistering, psych-rock wig out, soon becomes a test of endurance for the listener. The album starts to grate, the songs blur into one another, and the whole experience becomes fatiguing: Burzum’s Filosofem is an easier listen than Devil Music.
Devil Music will sit as a curio in The Men’s oeuvre—it is easily the least of their albums, and probably their most strange. It would be generous to say The Men have buried their talent in the lo-fi recording of Devil Music. More accurately, the malign production of the album has disguised an otherwise middling set of songs.