Before Devil Music, Brooklyn noise punks The Men used to release an album every year, experimenting with folk and Americana, zipping through personnel changes and working out how to handle a higher musical profile after years of working at it. Following a deserved year-long break, they convened one weekend this January to bang out Devil Music, 34 bracing minutes of ragged punk rock that careens ahead with little regard for the handbrake or volume dial.
This album will resonate with fans of fellow noisemakers Running and Pissed Jeans, and also those who loved The Men’s 2011 release, Leave Home. But the band isn’t returning to form, so to speak. Rather, Devil Music makes it clear that noisy punk music isn’t so much of a phase for The Men as much as a primal, basic state. The band has played big festival stages and recorded in Catskills cabins, but they really come alive in small practice spaces where instruments get dangerously sweaty and time ceases to matter. The opening salvo of “Dreamer”, “Crime”, and “Riding On” transports the listener into this garage rock party, mere seconds offered to orient yourself before Mark Perro smushes his lips up against the mic or Nick Chiericozzi lets loose a squeal from his guitar.
The vocalists of The Men aren’t invested in making themselves fully understood on Devil Music. Perro and Chiericozzi’s voices are degenerated and distorted; sometimes they gasp rather than sing, suck in air through their teeth instead of expel it. On the titanic “Violate”, Chiericozzi growls like his jaw’s only recently been unwired, the guitar screeching before a bluesy riff swaggers in. This track goes hand in hand with “Lion’s Den”, which condenses guttural yelling, frantic blurbs of bass from Kevin Faulkner, and atonal sax shrieks into three and a half minutes of chaos. Chiericozzi’s commitment to yelling himself hoarse creates waves of noise so unrelenting they somehow purify you. The words you can make out on Devil Music are often wry (on “Crime”, Chiericozzi remarks “Good God, I gotta relax my face!”) and destructive, but ultimately non-threatening — like when Perro notes on “Hit the Ground” that he “ain’t looking for salvation, I ain’t that kind of man.” Messaging isn’t a top priority to The Men, but liberation is, and it’s cathartic when only you truly understand what you’re screaming.
All that said, Devil Music isn’t unceasingly, painfully noisy. There are two reprieves in “Patterns”, a psych rock track with sax for texture, and the rambling acoustic guitar of “Interlude”, a quick injection of New Moon sound that doesn’t overstay its welcome or sound too out of place. The latter initiates a slower mood for the last ten minutes of the album, which The Men close out with both grace and power, channelled Led Zeppelin. Perro is parched and begging on the swaying “Gun”, asking over and over, “How are we going to do this?”
The tremendous “Fire” closes out the record with calls to Jesus Christ after confessions of throbbing pain, self-destruction, and giving into desire. It’s an epic, anguished ending to an album that’s devilish but not malicious. The result can hardly be called half-baked, but it also cannot be called self-serious, especially when The Men indulge in knowingly hyperbolic rock ‘n’ roll tropes like these. The stakes aren’t high on Devil Music, an album that feels less like a career marker for The Men and more like a simple, straightforward gift that they had a blast making, and something they hope you’ll like too.
Essential Tracks: “Lion’s Den”, “Violate”, and “Fire”