In many ways the idea of masculinity and the male role in modern society is undergoing a lot of examination and reevaluation. As women edge closer in the direction of equality, though I am by know means saying that they are anything like close yet, what it means to be a man today is something which a lot of people are thinking about. The archaic and stereotypical roles that have been the accepted norms for millennia are blurring and crossing into each other and just as women are having to redefine what it is they can be in todays society, so are men. And this is the theme that lies at the heart of The Limits of Men.
This is Nicholas Merz’s debut album, though he has released six with Seattle’s Darto, but it is an album that has been slowly forming in his mind all the while, since his teens. As the son of country band players he admits that he has had an odd relationship with the genre, both put off by the image and the attitudes of many to be found in its orbit but secretly drawn to it sonically. And whilst you wouldn’t call this a country record in the strictest sense, there is an undeniably countryfied heart beating at its core.
But this is tempered by many other factors, a starkness and introspection, a dark folkiness and a delivery that owes as much to Nick Cave as it does to the more expected man in black, Johnny Cash. Bulled Rose is a raw, heartfelt examination of men being born into traditional physical roles, all pent up energy and violins that seem to saw through the track at right angles and Neon Figures is a hypnotic, off kilter, waltz. The Great American Tale is an examination of the racial devisions still found at the sharp end of American life, a song that seems to be built of claustrophobia and gathering storm clouds as much as it is beat and chords whilst Fashion deals with other forms of division and cultural expectations.
If ever there was a time when music and musicians should join the political, social and cultural conversation it is now. In the past movements such as folk music, hip-hop, punk and grunge have risen out of the dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement of certain sectors of society yet as the world seems heading down a dark route once again it seems only to have given us conformity and obedience via TV music contests and reality shows. Thankfully Nicholas Merz gives us much to mull over whilst listening to his often dark, deft and dulcet tunes.