To discuss Monotonix on record, one must first confront Monotonix live. Having been lucky enough to experience them twice, I can attest they can be absolutely enthralling. The show generally starts with the band setting up on the floor and ends with the members and their equipment dispersed through out the crowd, beer and trash covering its members. They’re not necessarily alienating, but the show is not for everyone. But what does that say about their new Drag City record Where Were You When it Happened?
The record may not live up to intensity of their live experience, something their first EP Body Language missed as well, but the expanse of a full length gives them more room to expand on their relatively simple formula. Monotonix traffic in large guitar rock: a three-piece, vocals, drums, guitar, as much garagey punk as ’70s rock.
The first couple of songs from Where Were You don’t leave much of an impression, guitar riffs, some singing. But once the mid-tempo arpeggios of “My Needs” come on, the record starts finding its center. Coupled with the staccato rhythms in the chorus and a short noisy bridge, the song tends to capture much of their sound.
“Something Has Dried” and “Spit It on Your Face” hold the center, the former dynamic and the latter straightforward and fast paced. It’s the last two songs that bring it all to a head. “As Noise” starts with a voice/guitar duet, an exotic vocal melody and then a crashing Sabbath-esque stoner rock riff. It proceeds to alternate between these themes with a drum solo and a cresting, rambling vocal performance to end it. The gem that makes the record is the reverb drenched organ ballad that ends this eight-song set, “Hunt You Down.” You want to say it’s unexpected, and it is, but it’s a deadly effective come-down after a record of guitar driven rave-ups.
So how does this reconcile with Monotonix’s live show? Their live chaos now begins to seem deliberate. That it isn’t so random but that there is an aesthetic they’re reaching for, that perhaps their future releases will have something to add to the canon.