Friday, April 10, 2009

Monika H Band

Back in late March, I saw the Monika H Band at Rockwood. I was there for the band before, but during the crowd change-over, I was detained by an ill-timed pint. It was very cool, weird music, with GREAT players. I was tipped off early by the wah-wah pedal on the trombone that this was going to be a more progressive act. I am typically a 2-or-3-times-through sort of listener for that, so I knew I wasn't going to be able to make any value judgments right away. I could never have conceived how long I would have to listen. Monika herself is beautiful, and she sings with a very relaxed clarity. Something about it caught me quite quickly, so I put her record on when I got home and began to try and digest it.

I have listened to "Disguised As Umbrellas, We Slept" repeatedly in the interim, and I am still almost at a complete loss over what to say about it. There are songs that I love and some tracks that I can't listen to. I have never reviewed a record before where this is the case, which leads me to think that either I simply don't understand it or that something in it is disjointed. I read some existing reviews for a bit of guidance, to me not unlike cheating on one's homework. What I found was that the bulk of the reviews are idiotic and poorly written, mostly as a result of failing to admit my own same dilemma. I obviously like to be knowledgeable about my subjects (I know for instance that "Moonshine" is a Richard Murphy poem), but in the case of "reviewing" this record, I largely just have to wing it. Let's hope the journey, if only a little wayward is still worth taking.

"Fun To Be Had, If You Let It" is the most cohesive track I listened to, also my favorite. In my opinion, it's an example of the Monika H Band at their best. Somewhere in the maelstrom emerges a wicked musical hook from the guitar. The trip-hop vocal style hits just right, and the track builds around the emotion of the delivery, while the actual outpouring of the vocal remains relatively constant. Then at the conclusion, it is featured in a final call. There is something of a pleasure stroll one can take in this sonic landscape, while tracks like "Ride" build something more jagged - a spiky sonic cave one has to spelunk through. The first feels lovely, the second like a chore, though not without some reward at the conclusion. I find it very difficult to characterize.

Another example: "Outgoing King" is killer. The main theme, comprised mainly of Monika's voice backed by some jabbing horns, grabs me each time the song moves to it. But each time it is unexpected. It sounds revelatory, though I admit I am not sure the revelation. Call it esoteric, I suppose. Or perhaps I am justified in my suspicions that the record is a little bit unresolved? Who knows? I have spent a lot of time with the music and with this review. Both feel a bit incomplete to me, but my own anxiety reflects a desire for resolution. A desire wouldn't exist without an interested mind, which is itself a positive result. And ultimately, at least when dealing with serious matters, the thought of a resolution is often a childish, misguided dream. I am quite happy to focus on the music on hand, and I do, because I can't stop listening.

The band will be playing a show April 21 at Pianos at 8pm, which I will be at. (add it to your ical)

"Fun To Be Had, If You Let It" by The Monika H Band Download mp3 (with permission)

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