For a long stretch of their career, The Men never lacked for identity, despite making a gargantuan shift to their sound. In their first phase (through Leave Home), they were noise-rock specialists. The subsequent Open Your Heart was their first dabble into the Americana sound they’d pursue in their second phase. Open Your Heart was their breakout album for good reason: it ended up being the perfect combination of what The Men were and what they became. Then the alt-country identity of phase two that began with 2013’s New Moon wasn’t done as well as phase one, but they at least stuck to it—at least through the next record, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Hits.
After Tomorrow’s Hits, it became increasingly apparent that The Men couldn’t make up their minds. You could say it began when they made a solid, yet poorly timed, return to their noise-punk roots with 2016’s Devil Music. However, The Men’s real indecisiveness is reflected in their latest, Drift (Sacred Bones Records). Drift is The Men attempting an amalgamation of all of their work to date. But this album is no Open Your Heart; while it pulls equally from each of their aforementioned phases, it hardly does it as cleanly. Rather, Drift is demonstrably The Men’s most inconsistent and outright sloppy album in their repertoire. The disparity between their songs is clumsy, or more nicely put, noticeable. The two sounds of The Men take turns on Drift: the noise-punk camp of “Maybe I’m Crazy,” “Secret Light,” and “Killed Someone” practically alternate on the tracklist with their New Moon-esque counterparts, songs like “When I Held You in My Arms,” “Rose on Top of the World,” and “So High.” (I’m not going to go into the bizarre, wild-west psych triad that closes up the album.)
As an actual album, it’s hard to envision a more haphazard effort from The Men than Drift. It’s also proof (if we needed it) that constantly U-turning on your sound doesn’t lead to anything stable or recognizable. The Men would probably like Drift to be their prototypical release. Instead, it’s sort of forgettable.