Release Date: Oct 15, 2013
Record label: Sacred Bones
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Noise-Rock
Hey! You there! The Men! I pre-ordered your last LP at full price so I would have the privileged honor of receiving its "limited edition" bonus acoustic CD. Imagine my dismay at learning that that Campfire Songs has been given a general release and now any Tom, Dick, and Harry can get his grubby mitts on the recording. I haven't felt this abused since queuing up in the rain every single Record Store Day to buy a Flaming Lips vinyl only to see it given later worldwide distribution in a slightly different color.
On its surface, Campfire Songs seems like a pretty basic release. The all-acoustic set —recorded in an upstate New York house—comprises two new takes on songs from the band’s excellent 2012 record, New Moon, a reworking of a non-album track, and two new jams. It’s a kind of where are you going, where have you been kind of thing. But, listening to Campfire Songs, it feels like more than that.
The Men spend so much time on the road that they don’t really “get out much.” In our Guest List from earlier this year, I was struck by how few hobbies they have outside of their music, and beyond that, they’re most excited by current bands they work with directly. Not to mention their preferred cultural touchstones are from at least several decades prior—when they say a VHS copy of Uncle Buck has been a tour van favorite, you really believe them. Which is how a shitkicking, raucous indie band shares an album title with a Twilight movie in 2013—it’s likely they just aren’t even aware of its existence.
No doubt you can think of some bands who talk a mouthy, swaggering game about their music, but when it comes to the crunch appear shit-scared of trying anything new. The Men, five Brooklyn-based fellows with an intentionally neutral name, are kind of the opposite. Throughout their four albums to date they’ve brought a few surprises to the party, but you’d never catch them crowing about it, possibly because their roots are in DIY punk.
Last year, Brooklyn quintet The Men trekked upstate, set up camp in a house in the tiny hamlet of Big Indian, NY, and finally let their inner Crazy Horse and Tom Petty hang loose. They emerged, eventually, with New Moon, a rootsy affair that gradually revealed itself to be the group’s best work yet. Now, six or seven months later, they’ve given it a gratuitous, though not unwelcome, coda: Campfire Songs, a collection of five acoustic tracks so titled because — yes — they were reportedly recorded while sitting around a campfire by that upstate house.
It’s not a new thing to turn to nature for the purpose of creative self-discovery. Bob Dylan did it 1967 with The Band around the time of Big Pink, and of course Justin Vernon went to similarly isolated extremes as Bon Iver when he spent the winter alone in his dad’s cabin to record For Emma Forever Ago. But perhaps more surprisingly, the formerly rather raucous Brooklyn quintet The Men adopted a similar approach when they hauled themselves up to the Catskills, NY to make their highly praised New Moon album earlier this year.