Sacred Bones is one of those special, rare labels which shows faith in its artists. They put out whatever they want – reissues of forgotten 80s British punk (UV Pop), twisted folk (Cult of Youth) or even danceable psyche (Moon Duo) – and believe in those they sign, including The Men. When they released Leaving Home in 2011, their second release but first on Sacred Bones, they were down as a noise-rock band. There was the odd flirtation with blues and touch of folk on the record, a trait which was much expanded on their follow-up, Open Your Heart, which was The Men’s breakthrough. The album blended a plethora of influences into one of the highlights of 2012. New Moon, released the following year, again pushed the number of styles you can fit in an album, but this time felt ramshackle and, bar an odd moment or two, lacked the aggression of previous releases. They had strayed too far from their roots – there was a bloody harmonica!
However, another year, another record – for 2014 we get Tomorrow’s Hits. This, their fifth, is their first proper studio album, recorded in two days and completely live.
Horns are all over Tomorrow’s Hits – a welcome respite from the harmonica, which only makes a brief appearance. These horns add a sense of The E Street Band to their slower numbers, giving a quintessentially “American” sound to tracks such as ‘Another Night’. It’s not all Bruce Springsteen though; ‘Pearly Gates’ sees the horns up their tempo, freewheeling with the guitars. The band have reigned in the country on this album and the record is all the better for it. The soft twang on ‘Settle Me Down’ is testament to this more controlled approach.
The highlights of Tomorrow’s Hits come at the end of either side of the album. ‘Different Days’ and Going Down end sides A and B but would fit happily on ‘Leaving Home’ or ‘Open Your Heart’, acting as the heaviest numbers of the record. They hold the special ability of making your knee bob, but are more rounded than your typical noise rock tracks.
When Pitchfork reviewed their first album on Sacred Bones, they noted that “The Men’s modest catalogue thus far presents no such linear evolutionary trajectory [from chaos to control]” like their SST-influences (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth). How wrong they would appear now. The Men haven’t let themselves be held back by punk – they have taken influences from all types of rock’n’roll and crafted something very much their own. Tomorrow’s Hits feels like a homage to the history of guitar in the US and more so than any of their other genre-mashing records. Though lacking the full visceral bite of Open Your Heart, The Men’s fifth outing is a return to form. Maybe fewer horns next time.