Play With Your Toys by The End Men may have been recorded at Brooklyn’s Well Rounded Hoodlum Studios, but often, it sounds like it’s coming from the back room of a rickety old wooden boat where a single dimly-lit bulb swings with the waves.
The album opens with woozy, ship-wrecked chanting on “Cleaning Your Mind,” before lifting off with the psychedelic swirl of “Run Away.” The song then spittles into a steady grinding blues riff–The End Men’s long suit.
The Brooklyn group are only a duo. Matthew Hendershot mans the guitar and growls, while Livia Ranalli drops an anchor with her drums. Their music exhibits all the trappings of the most basic blues, but with a more chiseled slant. “Into The Mines” flows like a sea shanty before Hendershot leads the listener into a dark soot-covered hole in the ground. The blues crunch of ZZ Top is heard on “The Ballad Of Billy Polk” and “It’s All Wrong” is a tough, bare-knuckled stomp.
The songs are simple enough. Between the two of them, they use every bit of meat on their instruments. Hendershot challenges you up front, dares you to cross him. His voice is equidistant from Billy Gibbons’s garble and Mark Lanegan’s low-tide moan.
Ranalli has a pile of percussion before her. She remains in lockstep with the boozy guitar, but splashes, pokes and prods every piece of hardware between Hendershot’s riffs. Her backup vocals are ghostly and subtle, sliding right in next to the grime.
They do plenty with such a lean set-up and create an atmosphere worthy enough to stretch over the 11 songs on Play With Your Toys. The swift accordion drifts of “Play With Your Toys Pt. I” and “Pt. II” are like mist teasing into the heavier tracks. On “Mental Trapeze” Hendershot trades a sack of nickels for sticks and seeds with a blind man on 27th Street. Later he makes a batch of chocolate brownies and descends into a creeping carnival waltz.
The End Men are here to shake all the strange from your soul. Play With Your Toys was released digitally last February and is available for download and stream on The End Men’s Bandcamp. Their newest release is the two-sided single, “Work,” from last September.