I remember stepping off a bus in 2007 on my first trip to New York City. It was swelteringly hot and humid and a haze hung over the city. My feet hit the pavement and I was immediately slapped with three very distinct scents: diesel fumes from the public busses, garbage that was bagged and piled in towering mounds for collection that day, and urine.
The headache was instantaneous, and in retrospect I’m sure dehydration from my eight-hour flight didn’t help the matter.
When I listen to New York City by The Men, I’m immediately transported back to that experience. The overwhelming wall of garbage, piss, and exhaust. The audible representation however, when compared to the olfactory one, is a completely different experience — one with a pleasant sneer as opposed to a throbbing head.
Four things I’m going to cover here:
- I’m going to dig deeper into New York City and share my thoughts on The Men’s 9th LP
- I’m going to discuss its reception by referencing a few other reviews out there.
- I’m going to tie some of the sounds you’ll hear within to an underground punk duo from the other side of the country: Portland, Oregon.
- I’m going to share my copy, which is one of the coolest pieces of wax in my collection — and one of the most limited variants at that.
I’ll start with taking a look at the critical reception.
The Critical Reception of New York City
In a surprise move, Pitchfork called out The Men’s 2013 LP New Moon as “their fourth and arguably best album.” This comes as a quote by writer Zach Schonfeld who penned the review for New York City, the 2023 album by Brooklyn, New York garage and punk band The Men. New Moon has long been my favorite by the four-piece band, and I’d include it in my top 5 albums of 2013 — if not the top 3.
But I’m here to talk about New York City.
Schonfeld goes on to write…
To wit, New York City is the scuzziest the Men have sounded in years, an unpretentious garage-punk racket that wears its analog heart on its flannel-clad sleeves.” He gives the album a 7.1; nothing to scoff at.Pitchfork [Zach Schonfeld, 2023]
Let’s pivot to another site, Spectrum Culture. In a review by Casey Burke, they write:
There’s nothing forward-thinking here, in the context of either The Men’s discography or rock in general … But what’s new is the analog warmth, the titanic flair. They’ve sounded more scaled back and scuzzed-up than this, but they’ve never sounded this big.Spectrum Culture [Casey Burke, 2023]
Digging Into The Men’s Catalog
I agree with Pitchfork’s Schonfeld. New York City is quite possibly the best thing The Men have given us since New Moon. It’s not that what followed their 2013 LP was no good. Anything but. It just didn’t live up to the power and depth they created on that album.
Here I have to call out the duality of The Men: on one side you have the the raucous, edgy garage punk circa Leave Home (2011), Open Your Heart (2012), and Devil’s Music (2016) versus the more rustic and nuanced alt-country-tinged rockers like New Moon (2013), Drift (2018), and Mercy (2020).
New York City leans definitively toward the former. It is, without a doubt, The Men’s most grimy, gritty garage punk in years. I also have to mention that I tend to have a predilection toward the latter. Mercy is an under-appreciated gem and Drift has some pretty solid tracks within as well.
But New York City gives us something entirely new, yet fully familiar at the same time. The Men leaves behind the strong keyboard and organ prominence found on Drift and Mercy in favor of heavier guitar riffs. With exception to closing track “River Flows” (which gets a nod from me as the best track on the album), they also leave behind many of the more exploratory elements you’ll find peppered throughout their albums — dig into “Wading in Dirty Water” off Mercy for another example of this in play.
Another top track nod goes to “Eye” which features a hefty, dragging guitar riff and jeering screams. I get the impression that this album was created during a complete disenfranchisement with the state of the world. I envision hints of sarcasm conveyed through music, and through the vocals hints of jeering, sneering, contempt at the trajectory of the world today.
It’s absolutely brilliant.
Moving From Sacred Bones to Fuzz Club
I also must note that this is the first album in ages not on The Men’s longtime label Sacred Bones Records. They debuted on Sacred Bones back in 2011 with their sophomore LP Leave Home. Aside from Devil Music in 2016, which was on their own imprint We Are The Men Records (on which they released their debut LP Immaculada back in 2010), all their studio LPs until now had been on Sacred Bones.
New York City is on Fuzz Club Records. You’ll find some powerhouses there: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Elephant Stone, The Wands, Night Beats, The Jesus And Mary Chain, and countless others.
Strong Dead Moon References
Now to call out that band I mentioned earlier.
Three songs in particular sound like they could be covers of the longtime garage punk outfit out of Portland, Oregon: Dead Moon. It’s almost like they’re an ode to Fred Cole, who passed away in 2017. They have the vocal stylings and overly simple guitar riffs that Dead Moon gave us across 10 studio albums over their near 20 year tenure between 1987 and 2006.
The three songs include “Peace of Mind,” “God Bless the USA,” and “Through the Night.”
The guitar riffs, the thwarting the grating vocals often accompanying Dead Moon’s music, there’s such a strong ti-in here in the stylings The Men employ throughout New York City. That said, this album is a much easier pill to swallow than pretty much anything Dead Moon gave us — the dual vocals of Fred and Toody were great, but prolonged exposure can be likened to fingernails screeching down a chalkboard.
Unboxing the New York City Rough Trade Exclusive
That brings me to the end: sharing one of my favorite pieces of colored wax in my collection. It’s simple, but effective. Black and white. This is the highly limited edition variant exclusive to Rough Trade.
There are just 150 copies of this one, hand numbered with mine being number 128.
I love the cover. Close up on a drum kit with the vibrant gold and The Men imprinted on the kick drum. The back has a great design with the track list, the big and bold album title, and a black-and-white image of each band member. Even the printed inner sleeve is great, emphasizing that dual nature of The Men. But it’s the wax that makes this such a cool piece in my collection. The swirl of black and white just looks phenomenal.
It makes me think of oil pooling in water on the street. Despite it being in full black and white, the impression so fully suits and represents the music you get on New York City.
It’s a Wrap
What do you think of New York City by The Men? How do you think it stacks up next to the band’s other albums? I’d love to know. And, if you dig this, check out my coverage of New Moon next right here. I talk about how it includes what very well could be my #1 song of 2013.