What does math rock do when it grows up? Most bands choose to refine and decelerate their sound, calming the caffeine-infused jitters of conventional math into something more palatable, and in doing so often splitting their fan base in two camps. Minus the Bear is a well-known example of this, and some of my favorite bands such as Enemies and Waking Aida also have a well-defined split between their current sound and their jerky math-rock upbringings. However, there is a niche to be found for deliberate, skillful music which embraces math conventions while freeing itself from the juvenile air and the arbitrary time changes of much of the genre.
Making their self-titled debut on DIY label Naked Ally Records, Chicago outfit Monobody pick up the banner for the cause in a big way. One of the core aspects of the band’s sound is the presence of two bassists, who contribute to some deliciously intricate rhythms over the course of the album, laying sometimes unconventional foundations for the interplay between the guitar and keyboard. As if to demonstrate this, opener “Lifeguard of a Helpless Body” begins with a tapped bass rhythm soon joined by the rest of the band, with the guitarist skipping in and out of the mix like a hummingbird when not supplying core phrases himself, a model followed often on this LP.
RELEASE DATE: 07 April 2015 LABEL: Naked Ally Records
RECOMMENDED TRACK: Curry Courier Career
Throughout the course of the album, Monobody establish a sound that, due to the prominent keyboard parts, calls the word “jazzy” to mind, even though it really isn’t, what with the somewhat-linear song progression and the more assertive drumming. The album reminds me of London outfit Suffer Like G Did, but whereas they utilize constant stuttered, stop-start dynamics to keep things interesting, Monobody simply let their more varied instrumentation do the talking. This comparison also fails to capture the variety of sounds present on the album, with the more experimental “I Heard Them on the Harbor” and wistful album closer “Country Doctor” offering a welcome change of pace from the vigorous output of the band´s three-part rhythm section otherwise on display.
Even caring about the two bassists is by no means a prerequisite for enjoying Monobody’s music, however — the songwriting speaks for itself. “Curry Courier Career” is the best example of this, going off on multiple tangents before using a central phrase played by the keyboardist and the guitarist to pull the listener back to the song´s theme. If there ever was a song one could call a “math epic”, this would be the one.
This one took me a while to write — I knew I liked it, but I couldn’t really commit many of the album’s passages to memory. Monobody often opt for an opaque, somewhat indecipherable veneer of ideas that take a long time to digest. That isn’t to say anyone should have difficulty appreciating the album on the first playthrough — if that is the case, it likely just isn’t your thing. However, this is not exactly easy listening, don’t let the band’s gleeful major-scale sound fool you. The music demands the listener’s attention, and through the high level of musicianship and variety of ideas earns it as well. Although the coherence between the multitude of ideas being thrown around and experimented with seems to suffer at times, they always gel and make sense by the end of the song.
At the same time, “Monobody’s” staying power does suffer from this, which turns out to be the only real issue that needs to be worked out on future efforts. With the high bar set by this album, this may be a blessing in disguise in order for the band to keep on evolving. All in all, this is an extremely solid debut and a satisfying listen in a genre sorely lacking in new ideas. Monobody impress through their confident songwriting and genuinely creative song structures, and seem to accomplish everything they set out to do with this LP, making their mark while, just as importantly, leaving the listener with a lasting anticipation for more.
Watch a live basement session of “Lifeguard of a Helpless Body” below: