This review will be a throwback of sorts, we will be looking at the first LP from Chicago’s The Men. The group as we know by now from their latest release Mercy has undergone such a drastic change that you could listen to both albums side by side and you wouldn’t be remiss to think they come from different bands. The Men is a highly iterative and prolific group that started its roots in aggressive punk/shoe gaze before transitioning into softer and more sensitive tones of country-rock and folk.
Immaculada was released in 2010, and despite its constant use of holy imagery, it is mainly fueled by abrasive energy and harsh textures. From the heavenly initial chords of “Stranger Song” — which mimics a choir organ but played on a sand-paper laden guitar riff, we are introduced to the nuanced but tongue-in-cheekiness character of this album. This is followed by “Problems_Burning Up”, a fuzz-out ocean of turbulent riffs that drowns out its vocals in a desperate cry of anger and frustration. “Grave Desecration” does what it says on the title and revs up the chaos even further. Screeches and growls permeate every second, that the line separating voice from guitar is obfuscated. Seemingly every noise in the kitchen sink is jumbled up, but it leads to an unexpected conclusion. A solemn acoustic guitar emerges from the ashes, leaving its listeners in awe of the artfully coherent resolution.
Other notables in this album are “Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition”. Not only does this have an ironic title but it delivers the same in its execution. Familiar riffs and rhythms which are primarily used in surf rock are coated with a thick slathering of noise, juxtaposing between fun lightheartedness and scathing vitriol. The title track on the other hand incorporates drone rhythms with drowned out vocals wrapped in a siren filter, seemingly in the middle of a sermon. A track that is at times hypnotic and psychedelic.
The album’s highlight for me is “Madonna; The Star of The Sea”. The song starts with swelling shoegaze noises that slowly build up. From listening to the previous tracks you may think that it leads up to an explosive end, but this resolution is continually held back, creating the anticipation that something is about to blow without actually following through. A subversion that surprises the listener and rewards them with a solemn meditation.
The Men have come a long way, and although Immaculada is a thousand worlds away from their latest release. Looking back we can see a rich history of one of indie rock’s most innovative bands.