THE END MEN – Terms & Conditions

a4225037619_10Reappearing at the beginning of 2013 after a brief hiatus, Brooklyn’s End Men made a big statement with their second LP ‘Play With Your Toys’. From that point on, there seemed to be no stopping the blues/garage rock duo, with live shows aplenty following – including a recorded appearance at CXCW – and a quickly released compilation of odds and ends filling the gap until their next studio bookings.  Released seemingly weeks after their last recordings, ‘Terms & Conditions’ picks up exactly where you’d expect, with the gravel-voiced Matthew Hendershot weaving tales of woe and drunken forboding while percussionist Livia Ranalli plays by the seat of her pants.   With such a quick turnaround of material, are The End Men in danger of burning themselves out?  On the basis of their 2015 release, it’s a case of anything but…

‘Cold Black Pitch’ breaks new ground with Hendershot laying down a slightly discordant riff, in a higher key than his usual preference, but still with a sense of edginess. The space between the chords adding to the sense of unease, it all starts to fall into place once he starts to sing, his familiar Waitsian croon lifting everything.  The inclusion of saxophone is a nice touch, lending a further feeling of whiskey-fuelled, late night danger, while the percussion is solid throughout.  During the number’s second half, with the band bringing things down for a measured and thoughtful instrumental interlude, the subtlety and flourishes within Livia’s style become more apparent.  Placed among more familiar sounds from The End Men, for the long standing fan, this number is worth your price of admission alone.

With a heavy groove, ‘East of West’ – a more traditional blues workout – showcases Hendershot’s unsubtle rhythm guitar work throughout, his loud and overdriven style occasionally threatening to drown out the vocal.  Familiar melodies flood the vocal line, honking sax work lends itself well to the ugly garage rock sounds, the end result like a straight-up collaboration between Waits and the much missed Morphine.  With plenty of muted chords and a heavy swing rhythm, ‘Copycat’ shows off the cocky swagger of the band’s core sound perhaps better – and slightly more accessibly – than anything before.  Crashing cymbals and heavy snares collide with a bar-room growl throughout, lightened by occasional backing from Ranali – her curling voice suggesting an old fashioned jazziness – but it’s so often those rhythm guitars that really shine.   Bringing things down to a much more sinister level, ‘Beast of NYC’ adopts a heavy downtune and slide guitar combo, a dirty, dirty groove bringing an instant classic to The End Men’s growing repertoire, before a rousing chorus with a blend of harmonies gets set to win over the listener.  With Hendershot’s oppressive growl, “harmonies” is a relative concept, but you get the idea…

With a rousing riff to kick things off ‘Morning Birds’ at first sounds uplifting, but quickly descends into a slow blues, quiet and measured musically, but always allowing a confident vocal to tale centre stage.  Touches of Dr. John jostle against the usual Waits fixations, but often with a friendlier backdrop.  The saxophone returns to play a very important part, it’s baritone sounds bringing some great bottom end, before rising to a brilliantly jazz-tinged solo with an almost timeless quality.  Clocking in at just under six minutes, ‘Defining Deviance Down’ tests each of The End Men’s tried and tested tricks: loud blues riffing delivered with garage rock gruffness, hard smashed snares drowned by harder smashed cymbals,a mean and moody sax and deep bass grumble. All the while Hendershot oversees all with the manner of a cantankerous ringmaster in his own circus of malcontents.  For those who love them, this is guaranteed to please, and for the unfamiliar, a reasonable entry point.  It may not break any new ground, but it’s the sound of a band at the top of their game.  In terms of blues, it’s edgy and inspiring – far more interesting than Joe Bonamassa’s trudging borefests.

With great riffs, walls of noisy percussion and a bunch of tales from the seedier side of New York, again, this record is the musical equivalent of sawdust floors, cheap suits and fine, fine bourbon.  Again, the key influences are more than obvious, but with their no-nonsense sound and shift towards a garage intensity, The End Men come one step closer to making these sounds their very own.   It’s more than fair to say, if you’ve already experienced this noisy powerhouse, then ‘Terms & Conditions’ brings all the ugly thrills you’d hope for…and more.

June 2015