Credit is due to the Men for being one of those groups prone to changing things up from album to album. In the past — similar to, for instance, Animal Collective in the early 2000s before
Merriweather Post Pavilion — they’ve even signaling those changes live before the records appear. Those who saw the Brooklyn band back in early 2012 expecting to have their eyebrows singed by a set consisting purely of songs from their then-latest, Open Your Heart, and their sandblaster from the previous year, Leave Home, could receive a set spiked with countrified riffs and occasional bouts of jamming. When New Moon rose, Tomorrow’s Hits became today’s focus.
The Men insisted on growing up fast; enough so that they paused to flip through their scrapbook on
Devil Music in 2016 while some were still catching up with their heritage rock revisions. At the moment, the developments appeared sudden, but in the protracted view, they were not unpredictable. Really, they could be interpretable as playing into certain rock ‘n’ roll notions of songwriting maturity and deference to the classics. Know your roots, respect your elders, and learn how they do it down in Nashville if you can. The Men dug their own footprints into the path, but the map was not unfamiliar.
Drift, then, might be the first real curveball from the band in their ten years together. A few tracks into an initial spin and it almost starts to come across as a survey of the modes they’ve operated in up to this point, but as you go further in the music feels less familiar, not more. The band begins to feel less familiar, too. In a time when the market has incentivized consistency of sound so a given band doesn’t get lost in the stream and shuffle, Drift declines to take a single direction. It isn’t a stubborn record, but it is casually insistent on doing things on its own terms.
That position is made clear by the album’s running order, leading with its least familiar look. “Maybe I’m Crazy” is a slightly eerie, slightly uncomfortable synth-penned dispatch from the urban underworld. It is an off-kilter but worthy entry into the too often aggrandizing New York songbook, at one point holding up the city’s entrenched myths and unglamorous realities in a single sardonic line: “The city that never sleeps / I’m selling chicken over rice!” The atonal saxophone and harsh vibe of “Maybe I’m Crazy” add to a sense of No Wave homage. The sax comes back a couple of tracks later on “Secret Light”, exhaling deeply throughout the electric piano-led jam.
Drift covers considerable ground in little more than a half hour. The unhurried and remorseful “When I Held You in My Arms” could almost have come from The Blue Moods of Spain. “Rose on Top of the World” has a whiff of Lou Reed to its harmonizing, rambling acoustic rock. “Killed Someone” is the lone time the Men plug in and thrash, but it is no more of an anomaly here than the night-crawling country blues of “Sleep” or the tremoloing, Spiritualized-in-the-desert comedown “Final Prayer”. By no small stretch, Drift is the Men’s most spacious album to date, but it’s addition by subtraction, as this particular set of songs wouldn’t be as strong if they were played with more muscle.