Imagine sitting in a mildewy dive bar somewhere on the outskirts of town, the lights dim and the cigarette smoke so overpowering your eyes are watering and you can feel it seeping into your underwear. It´s an open mic night and three very bluesy-looking dudes take the stage, each one with a glass of whisky in hand and rocking instruments that look like they´ve seen around a million jam sessions. You´ve seen this kind of thing before, and you quickly order another drink, mentally preparing yourself for yet another edition of “we really like Guns N’ Roses and Johnny Cash”.
Then they start to play. All suppositions fade away and you realize that while these guys have been around the block, they never let it get to their imagination. This is the best way to describe how I felt listening to Australian instrumental fusion trio Three Wise Monkeys‘ latest effort “F̴AL̶SE͜ F͡L̡A̵G”, which runs the gamut of what fusion has put out and (ahem) fuses all that input into something that sounds refreshingly new. 3WM´s previous two full-lengths display the group´s transition from a focus on live performances to albums in earnest, and the improvement in their music´s coherence and composition continues on this one. The album eschews categorization and forces the listener to follow the band on their own terms, a risky maneuver for many artists who haven´t found their own natural groove yet.
RELEASE DATE: 01 March 2015 LABEL: Self-released
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: Ruse de Guerre, F̴AL̶SE͜ F͡L̡A̵G, Snowden
Fortunately, these guys can seriously play, and they know it, showing a confidence in their sound which bleeds through on every track. A key part of the musicianship on display here is the fantastic use of space on tracks such as “Ruse de Guerre”. Serving admirably as the album´s opening track, this works to its advantage, as the sparse, delayed guitar and skilful working of the hi-hat carry the listener through a bleak expanse which sets the tone for much of what is to come. As it happens, this is one of the few near-constants on “F̴AL̶SE͜ F͡L̡A̵G” – 3WM are all over the place stylistically, venturing from straightforward foot-tappers like the eponymous second track to the thoughtful and lightly-picked “Snowden”.
A personal point of satisfaction is finally hearing a three-piece band that acts like one, meaning the avoidance of unnecessary layering and guitar overdubs when they would mainly detract from the motif established by “only” having one guitarist in the first place. This trend is only noticeably departed from on “Reichstag Fire”, coincidentally the weakest song on the album, and “Cyb3r T3Roi$t”, whose introductory robotic bleeps and altogether much more experimental sound make it stand out as the proverbial red-headed little cousin of the album. Having quite literally been that redhead cousin myself as a kid, I mean that in a good way.
The instrumentation carries the album throughout, with the production toeing a fine line between “that´s just how it sounds in the basement” and general mediocrity. Closer “Fukushima” especially sounds like there is a wall between the listener and the band, and more than once I found myself unconsciously turning up the volume in hopes of remedying this. I´m also not a fan of some of the distortion tones used for the guitar, but luckily there is enough variety to keep things interesting and there are overall more hits than misses. A strong point in the mix is the bass, wisely kept tastefully modest to ensure that the frequent (and brilliant) slapped lines don´t become grating.
“F̴AL̶SE͜ F͡L̡A̵G” does lose a lot of steam as it progresses, however, with the otherwise excellent “Cyb3r T3Roi$t” inexplicably cut short after a masterful transition from its tentative beginnings into an all-out space-funk exhibition. “Mimicry” follows the same recipe as “Conundrum” but just fails to nail it, while “Fukushima” barely passes the halfway mark before degenerating into an unimaginative shred-off. The rest of the album profits enormously from the band´s obvious chops and disregard for any kind of genre conventions, but I wish they had taken a bit more time to fine-tune the second half.
All in all, “F̴AL̶SE͜ F͡L̡A̵G” is a thoroughly enjoyable listen despite its shortcomings and overall brevity. While 3WM could care less about any “scene”, that might just be their strongest suit. The darker mood on this LP is an intriguing new direction for them and a welcome departure from the whimsical nature of many fusion acts I´ve encountered in the past. Then again, the band state themselves that they hope to “bring Fusion out of the dark ages”. More power to them; I´ll be following them on their way.