This week, two primal, grizzled, loud, messy rock albums come out, and I had a hell of a time choosing between them. I’m still not sure I made the right call. The self-titled debut from the Leeds punk band Eagulls has “Possessed,” the best song on either album, and it has a clarity and an energy that Tomorrow’s Hits, the latest from the New York band the Men, never really bothers to approach. But Tomorrow’s Hits has reach and variation and some sense of rhythmic swing, qualities to which Eagulls cannot lay claim. It was a tough call. And I’m not going to lie to you: Part of the reason I’m giving this one to the Men is that I feel bad for not giving it to past Men albums. The Men are five albums in now, a new one regularly arrives every year, and all of them are worth hearing. They all play out like chapters in one long continuous story, one that starts with lurching, ugly hardcore and which is moving incrementally toward classic-rock majesty. Tomorrow’s Hits probably isn’t the best album of the bunch; that’s probably still 2012′s acrid and merciless Leave Home. So maybe you should consider this the Men’s lifetime-achievement Album Of The Week — our equivalent of the Academy granting Al Pacino an Oscar for Scent Of A Woman or Martin Scorsese one for The Departed. But Tomorrow’s Hits, in its own right, is an admirably scuzzy piece of drunken roadhouse blooz, and it deserves its own plaudits, on its own merits. It’s a back-alley blare that deserves to be heard, and that’s ultimately why it’s in this column this week.
Tomorrow’s Hits is a funny name for this album, since none of its songs has the slightest chance of ever becoming anyone’s idea of a hit, and since the album never carries the tiniest echo of anyone’s idea of a possible future. Instead, the album is a retro echo of a retro echo. After all, it’s been almost exactly 20 years since Primal Scream turned the Rolling Stones’ idea of Southern boogie — an idea that was then decades old — into drunken splooge on Give Out But Don’t Give Up. On Tomorrow’s Hits, the Men take Primal Scream’s knocked-around idea of that sound and knock it around even more, until it’s a bloody mass of broken teeth and regrets. It’s been a curious evolution for the Men over the past five years, starting with New York underground-rock grit-and-grind and gradually working in all these classicist ideas and poses. But along the way, the band hasn’t really become any friendlier.
The innovation of Tomorrow’s Hits — and it isn’t really an innovation at all — is to turn that classic-rock wall-of-boogie sound into controlled chaos. They’ve got keyboards and horn-honks poking out in every generation these days, but they’re still just as mean and ornery and dangerous as they were when they were imagining some combination of Unsane and Suicide and early Sonic Youth. Consider “Pearly Gates,” the album’s righteous rave-up of a first single. This is clearly the work of a small army of musicians recording in a single room together, and even though it’s a controlled and tightly arranged groove — all the musicians heating up and cooling down, with assurance, at the right moments — it still stumbles like an ungainly Frankenstein’s monster, especially when it really gets going. As the song is hitting its climax, guitars and horns and pianos are drunkenly blundering in every possible direction while frontman Nick Chiericozzi is raggedly whooping with near-wordless aplomb: “Oh! Oh! Ohhhaaaow!” The everything-going-at-once buzz is something that we rarely hear in the era of Pro-Tools, and we get some of that old Blonde On Blonde/Exile On Main Street feeling: “What is that organ doing there?” Or: “Why is everyone still playing at once?” There is, after all, harmonica on this album. A lot of it. But the Men don’t use all that mess to create beauty, the way Dylan or the Stones so often did. Instead, they specialize in a sort of mean-mugging squalor, keeping all the sharp edges poking out. It’s invigorating, but it ain’t exactly pretty.
On Tomorrow’s Hits, as on all their albums, the Men care more about grooves and riffs than they do about songs — and, in fact, they may be trending more in that direction with every successive release. Chiericozzi isn’t much of a singer, and when you go to see the Men live, the guys in the band give off a distinct sense that they can’t wait to stop singing so that they can get back to doing the thing where everyone plays solos simultaneously. Even when they conjure up something resembling prettiness — “Get What You Give” could be a distant inbred cousin of Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” — they’re clearly just building up to their monumentally satisfying moments of guttural splurge. But they do that guttural splurge so well that you almost don’t need the melody. We’ve got no shortage of bands, after all, who can write a catchy hook, but only a few bands can do this sort of weaponized lurch. And with Tomorrow’s Hits, the Men have found yet another context for that lurch, something they never fail to do.
After all, Tomorrow’s Hits comes out a year, almost to the day, after New Moon, their last album — and that one came out almost exactly a year after Open Your Heart. Each album builds, just slightly, on the ideas of its predecessors, but all of them leave open the possibility that the band could just as easily shoot off in any other direction. There’s a distinct possibility that the next time early March rolls around, the Men will give us a new album that launches them into straight up Black Crowes territory. Or they could just as easily point themselves back toward the guttural, dirt-encrusted postpunk of their early days. But there’s something very cool about the way the band releases albums as annual check-ups: Showing us just exactly where they are on their artistic trajectory, with each new record showing us a sign of what this band can do. And every year, we learn all over again that they can do a whole fucking lot.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Real Estate’s glimmering, surefooted Atlas.
• Pharrell’s sparse, rhythmically smart, eminently friendly G I R L.
• Rick Ross’s soggy, overstuffed mogul-rap onslaught Mastermind.
• Eagulls’ aforementioned self-titled throwdown.
• Linda Perhacs’s incandescent decades-late return The Soul Of All Natural Things.
• Nothing’s loud, toothy shoegazer Guilty Of Everything.
• Drive-By Truckers’ seasoned Southern-rocking English Oceans.
• Eternal Summers’ sparkling twee-popper The Drop Beneath.
• Trust’s sinister club-pop move Joyland.
• Morbus Chron’s darkly ambitious death-metaller Sweven.
• Lushes’ cerebral post-rock debut What Am I Doing.
• Ava Luna’s idiosyncratic DIY indie-R&B debut Electric Balloon.
• Color War’s moody, melodic wallow It Could Only Be This Way.
• Stone Jack Jones’s ambient folk zone-out Ancestor.
• Each Other’s glitchy, sideways debut Being Elastic.
• Wild Throne’s clean, complex metal attack Blood Maker.
• Psalm Zero’s dark, proggy kinda-metal debut The Drain.
• Weeknight’s elegant synthpop debut Post Everything.
• Nai Harvest’s Hold Open My Head EP.
• Holy Child’s Mindspeak EP.
• Au Revoir Simone’s brightness/contrast remix EP.