The following is a review of The Men‘s latest album, Open Your Heart. It imagines the album is a party to which anyone who is listening is invited.
We heard music as we walked from our car that we parked on the side of the road. A ton of people were already at the party, so the driveway was full of cars and we had to make the hike from down the street. They had given the house a name as people like to do, and it was called Open Your Heart. It always seemed like a weird name to me. Then again, the people who lived there were called “The Men.” Even the girls who lived there were still referred to as “The Men.” I had heard about the party from a friend and realized that I had been to another thing The Men had thrown a year earlier in a different place. That one used to be called the Leave Home House. Those parties were a bit stranger and darker and from what I had heard; this new place seemed a bit more lively and fun.
Listen to “Open Your Heart” below:
Entering the house was a bit like stepping back into the early ’90s. Where the walls weren’t wood paneled, there were tapestries and old fliers that were pulled off of the street. A Dazed and Confused poster hung in the kitchen. The berber carpet was stained with dark colors that you couldn’t help but assume were blood. There were turtles in the bathtub. The house was filled with people wearing studded leather and plaid button ups that opened to reveal old band t-shirts. The music that was playing was uncannily reminiscent of a certain popular grunge spinoff group, but there was something else to it too that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was always how those parties began and how the average person was there; loud and aggressive, but friendly. Shouting and barking like an “animal” or maybe just a house pet with a vicious streak.
I never was able to figure out who was one of The Men and who wasn’t. They blended in with the party guests and most of the time they hid in the background, secretly turning the volume knobs up on the stereo. I did meet one of them, I think. A short while into the party, the rolling papers and glass pieces came out and a few people split off into bedrooms to smoke. I ended up in a black-lit room that had walls adorned with felt-covered, glowing posters. I assumed the person taking the bong out of the closet was the occupant of the room. I never caught his name. If collectively they were The Men, maybe he was the man, or the dude. He seemed like he would be a “Big Lebowski” fan. The dude rarely spoke, and when he did it was in broken, burnt out phrases. He looked like he was in his 30s and he had shoulder length curly hair and a beard. He was wearing an old ratty Dinosaur Jr. T-shirt. Yet, the façade was where the stereotype ended.
One of the dude’s friends knew that he had an interest in country music, so he asked the dude to put a “country song” on the record player by his bed. The way the kid said it, it seemed like the mockery leaned toward the cruel side, but the dude just laughed and went over to the turntable and put something on. What emerged from the speakers was what one could effectively call the exact opposite of country. Slow, lyric-less guitar and noise that came in and out at the end, almost as if vibrating in and out of consciousness and taking us with it. It was a good choice for the situation.
After emerging from a smoke-filled room, there was suddenly a newfound complexity to the distorted sounds and the “oscillation” of the music as it chased the spinning room around and around. It seemed like it was always exactly at the moment right after everyone got baked that one of The Men decided to read broken and simple spoken word poetry. Standing in the kitchen, I lowered my head so I could just listen. I took off my shoes and stared at them as they grew closer and closer. I imagined an entire universe inside of them full of people that had entire lives and problems and loves. Then I killed them all when I put my feet back into my shoes.
Listen to “Ex-Dreams” below:
Throughout the night I had been wondering why the place was called Open Your Heart. For the type of group that The Men were, it seemed like the kind of trite broken-hearted sentiment that wouldn’t come from them. The exact moment I was thinking this was when I saw the girl. It was through the sliding glass door out onto the porch. She was out in the dark and it looked like she was smelling a sunflower planted in the garden. The reflection of the moonlight on her face made it seem like she was a high contrast silhouette of purple and black.
I stepped outside, thinking up some feeble excuse to talk to her, but I was interrupted. It was right about that part of the night when the acoustic guitar came out and everyone followed it out to the backyard. I finally got to hear that country song that the dude had been made fun of for earlier. He called it “Candy” and began with “I just quit my job, now I can stay out all night long.” It seemed like he was inventing the lyrics on the spot, because I was almost sure that I heard him tell someone that he did quit his job earlier in the night. He might have even said that exact sentence.
It was kind of like a simple working-class folk song amidst a sea of punk chaos. Yet, the people there embraced the shifting mood easily and the transition made the juxtaposition almost unnoticeable. The crowd might not have been sitting cross legged and listening intently, but they were no longer breaking beer bottles and punching holes in the walls. They were howling at the moon and trying to start a fire in the flowerbed. My impression of The Men was constantly changing as they never got stuck in one genre for too long. After the country song ended, the dude got up a bit awkwardly and, as if to compensate, went back to the stereo to resume the stinging feedback and loud party music.
At first, I thought The Men were simple slackers that liked loud music, dusty basements and had a general anger toward society or the system or whatever. However there were a lot of wordless moments that said a lot, like giant noiseless sighs. “Candy” was a catchy tune and it provided a rare moment of clarity in an otherwise blurry and drunken night. One of the lines in the chorus went, “When I hear the radio play, I don’t care that it’s not me.” I think everyone at that party was a failed musician, myself included. It didn’t matter. Nothing really mattered.
I didn’t see the sunflower girl again; I don’t know where she went. I looked for her all over the house. I don’t know if she was really at the party or if she just wandered up barefoot out of the woods to smell that flower and put it in her hair and then go on her way. Overall, there weren’t too many ridiculous stand-out moments, but for some reason that party and the image of that purple and black girl smelling a sunflower stuck in my memory.
In my search of the house, I found this one room with a message painted on the walls. It said, “Open your heart. There are no mirrors here. Do what you want. Be who you want to be.” I realized that it was true; in my search around the house I hadn’t seen a single mirror.