Various Artists – Monosyllabic 001

Various Artists
Monosyllabic 001

The first release from California’s Monosyllabic Records is a compilation that attempts to sum up the math-rock/post-rock bands of the Arcata/Eureka area in that state, with a few visitors thrown in. Oddly enough, it feels like I don’t hear this style of music much anymore. It seemed to be hot a few years ago, with bands like Pele, The Mercury Program, Tristeza, Volta Do Mar, and others doing incredible things, but the number of such releases has died down. Regardless of whether the fad is passing, this is a fine compilation of the genre.
Most of these bands are doing basically the same thing: bass-rich rhythms, intricate and complex percussion, melodically picked guitar, and the occasional vocal lines. That means there’s really not a lot of variation here, but some songs do stand out, either because the band does it exceptionally well or tries a few more things. “Lot’s of Jay Squeezin’ It” by America’s [sic] reminds me of Pele mixed with Joan of Arc, especially in the incoherent vocals and the driving guitars of the song’s climactic ending. The Mercury Program turn out another lovely, chiming track with the live “Gently Turned Your Head,” and Forms offer “Sunday” from their stellar EP Icarus, a driving rock track that just tangentially fits here.
One of my favorites is “Own Nothing” by Friends in the Mountains, mainly because the band creates a more soothing, more melodic feel, seeming to go for style over impressing the listener. I’m thrilled to see one of my favorite bands, Volta Do Mar, here, but their live version of “Scream Not Ready” feels incoherent and ill conceived, primarily in the vocal department but also the mixing in the live setting. Traindodge’s “Five Forks” is a straightforward rock song that would fit better on an Emo Diaries compilation, and maybe I like it so much because it’s a comforting change at the mid-way point.
Oso’s “Movement Burn Ready Noon” has some very cool guitar-work – almost exclusively guitar, in fact, and Maserati proves why it is one of the best overlooked bands with the low-key, live “Cities.” The attitude of the vocals on “Social Butterflies” by Biblioteca and the more aggressive, post-rock feel helps this track stand out, although it’s not one of the album’s best. Strings and horns turn the dark, moody “Ave Maria” by Datura Blues into something beautiful and soothing, and I wish more of these bands tried a similar approach in experimentation.
Then there are the bands that basically sound the same, recreating the same basic sounds, even if doing it well. Nat Attack!’s ode to He-Man, “Castle Grayscale,” is pretty rote math-rock, filled with rich bass and roving guitar lines, nice if not especially groundbreaking. Sounds Like Braille’s “Sunbeam Stacatto” is a bit more sonically pleasing, with more emphasis on guitars; the song really gets rocking by its midpoint. By track seven, Ent’s “Underwater They Looked Like Spaceships” bores me to tears, as does Parl Passu’s guitar wanking on “Paperweight.” “You Can Run but You Can’t Glide” by Brutally Handsome Gentlemen is buried in so much feedback it’s disturbing, and “Yar’s Revenge” by Timber! is way too repetitive with far too little passing for melody. I have no idea what to make of the noisy “Totally Distant” by Ptolemaic Embers except to say they hit the hi-hats far too often. And the last 45-second track isn’t even worth mentioning.
I’m consistently impressed by the talent of musicians who can play this style of music well. It takes tremendous talent on every instrument, and putting it all together in a pleasing and cohesive way is amazing. Unfortunately, this compilation serves to prove how much these bands sound alike. While there’s not really a bad song anywhere on this disc, after 18 tracks, I’m left bored and listless, forgetting even the strongest tracks that stand apart here. So while I’d recommend this to people looking for great new bands in the style, it also feels like a close to bands playing the style.