Monday, April 29, 2013

Monitor-s/t; World Imitation, 1980; Reissue via Superior Viaduct

Disaster Amnesiac has been digging the Monitor debut for many years, thanks to Joe Carducci's inclusion of many of their graphics within Rock and the Pop Narcotic and Mutant Sound's upload in 2007 or so. Despite my absolute love of this album, I have always been hesitant to give it the description and enthusiasm that I've desired to lavish upon it. Superior Viaduct's boss reissue/remaster has sparked my enthusiasm for the task.
Monitor's lone LP is so rich in ideas, so right on so many levels, Disaster Amnesiac feels compelled to go track by delicious track.

We Get Messages-opening with ominous Farfisa strains from Steve Thomsen, and then picked up beautifully by Keith Mitchell's tribal/junk shop drumming, this tune has always felt to me like it's Monitor's calling card. Disaster Amnesiac is continually blown away by its mysterious, psychedelic vibe. Dig on Laurie O'Connell's stellar bass moves and Micheael Uhlenkott's piercing guitar sounds as they melt your perceptions. Thrill at their call and response vocals as they state their case. It makes me think of some coven or tribe, singing out their story, proudly declaring, "we exist!" And how.

Mokele-Mbembe-featuring the most ancient of musical instruments, voices and percussion, Monitor conjure up a just plain gorgeous track here. It is similarly imbued with the tribal vibes of its preceding track, but the beautiful harmonizing of the band gives it an altogether different feel. Like a summer Matsuri ceremony in Japan, the clacking percussive interplay is filled with feelings of sublime human unity. Wonderful.

In Terrae Interium-the album's first really heavy turn, in which the Monitor goes underground, seemingly giving birth to the entire Death Rock genre, at least its L.A. area sound. Mitchell's sparse, minimal drumming is very effective as he moves the tune by holding back, as are the chanted ghost voices and whirling Micromoog runs and spare chords from the guitar and bass. Do the Spooky Dance here, but remember that Death is responsible for itself.

Herb Lane Theme-Disaster Amnesiac often imagines this song as being the soundtrack to some strange puppet show, presented by the visual wing of World Imitation. After the heaviness of its predecessor, Herb Lane rolls happy-go-lucky, a welcome respite from the musings on mortality of Interium. The group's playing sounds like the Magic Band circa 1970, with Van Vliet having left the room for a few minutes, leaving them to play his skewed rhythms at their own, slightly more relaxed pace, and happier for it. Great turnaround at the end, here, too. Let's have a toast to Herb Lane, whoever he was.

Amphibious-in which Monitor give Devo a run for supremacy in the Science Rock genre, but only after an an intro that features delicate acoustic guitar strumming, big Rock chords, and great cymbal hits. The meat of the tune has a twisted carnival sound, with more groovy Farfisa. O'Connell sounds like she's having a blast intoning the evolutionary turns of some creature. The middle freak out parts belies Free Jazz and Musique Concrete influences before landing our amphibian on the shore of.......

Pavilion-driven by a great mid-1970's style Kraut synth, this song is perhaps another of the band's tribal chants. The clinking tambourine and percussion from Mitchell remind this listener of Hare Krishnas convening in some suburban strip mall, while Laurie's ode to joy gives rise to images of the coven evoked in Messages. Great, by turns Western and Arabic sounding guitar from Uhlenkott rides throughout, funking up the motorik drive of the synths. Joy!

Phosphorea-this wispy, organ-led instrumental also features simple, possibly Surf-inspired guitar and chirping synths. It is evocative of early evenings in SoCal, the orange and pale blue sunsets, the dusty smog and fog of the beaches, the dry heat of the afternoon commute. Yes, its brief duration does open up Disaster Amnesiac's nostalgic poet side.

Hair-is this the first and only example of a band giving another band one of their songs to document? If you read this, and are aware of another, please let me know! The Meat Puppets are the recipients of the honor, and they act accordingly, shredding this tune with a spastic beat that sounds like Hawkwind's drummer OD'd on Lemmy's speed. It's their most Hardcore statement, and, it being the Meat Puppets, is completely free of Hardcore cliche, just ripping energy and freak out power. I think that I hear a theremin in the background, but it could just be Curt's guitar feeding back. It's that kind of performance!

I Saw Dead Jim's Shade-what is one of the greatest LP's of the 1980's ends with this Burroughs-ian Science Fiction nightmare scenario, as Monitor return to their Death Rock side. Spooky Moog sounds are paired with O'Connell's burbling bass and more crunchy Scordatura guitar as the band muses on the final passing of some Jim. The man is giving a damn stately funeral procession,  as the drums keep up a steady tattoo and keys march in time. The vocals are particularly disturbed, here. What they saw clearly got to them.

....but wait, there's MORE!!!

Superior Viaduct, in keeping with the very high standards of completeness that are proving so satisfying to their customers (do cop the California Babylon CD/DVD for more proof of that), have also included the Beak/Pet Wedding 7" and one track from an LAFMS comp, Darker Scratcher, Guardian.

Utilizing an insistent jackhammer synth/drum beat, Beak has the group possibly driving away an unwanted guest. The song always gives me visions of some Tahitian ritual, the group members becoming big Islanders in my mind. Disaster Amnesiac seems to recall photos of the performance to which Pet Wedding was the soundtrack. I love the way Laurie intones, "kiss the bride/now DANCE!" to the  animal groom. The tune spirals into a Free break down, similar to the one in Amphibious on the LP, before winding down the nuptials.Guardian, the most overtly Industrial track from a group with real ties to the initial burst of said genre, features strange backward tape sounds and jaunty organ grinding.

In 2009, Disaster Amnesiac found a copy of the Monitor LP at Plan 9 Records in Richmond, VA. I dutifully brought it back to California, sure that its grooves belonged more in its home state. At that time, I was still holding out hope for the World Imitation book release that had been hinted at (and has since seemed to have been shelved). Superior Viaduct has made it more possible for listeners in all states to at least dig on Monitor's Psych/Industrial/Ethno/Goth music grooves, if not their visual art, and for that, they should be happy. Do your ears and mind a favor, and find this release!


6c03158c-b122-11e2-8380-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Thanks DA, for the nice review of the Monitor LP re-release by Superior Viaduct.

A few observations that might interest the reader:
> The Mokele-Mbembe is the Congolese sauropod that terrorizes locals;
> Herb Lane was a San Fernando Valley sculptor whose strange and interesting work was discovered by my brother, James, at a thrift store. Nothing else is known about him. The tune was originally a sinfonia for harpsichord;
> "Amphibious" was inspired by Bernard Herrmann;
> "Pavilion" was inspired by Toru Takemitsu;
> "Phosphorea" reflects Steve Thomsen's love of all things that glow;
> The theremin sound in "Hair" is Steve playing synthesizer with the Meat Puppets;
> "Dead Jim" refers to my brother, James.

thank you,
Michael Uhlenkott

Mark Pino said...

Sorry if I seemed callous about James. Didn't know.

6c03158c-b122-11e2-8380-000bcdcb8a73 said...

No apology needed. He's still living! MEU

Mark Pino said...

Ha! Ok!

Keith Mitchell said...

Maybe you didn't notice but there is a booklet with photos and World Imitation art included in the CD.

Keith "Big Beat" Mitchell

Mark Pino said...

Oh, yeah, I noticed! But, I was hoping to see a lot more!

Pig State Recon said...

Great review of a great album, Mark. I'd buy this too, but I already blew my Monitor wad last year on the expensive Japanese CD edition :)

I'm most struck by the deliberately slow pacing of these tracks. It's music for silent movies, for seances, and for South Sea island ceremonies.

I also love how you can hear the origins of the band members later work (The Romans, Opal, solo etc). Sooo many distinct musical personalities under one big thatched roof. Amazing.

Mark Pino said...

Absolutely. One of the bast Punk era bands, one of the best records. GREAT stuff!

Sister Wendy Beckett said...

I didn't know of MONITOR when I just incidentally bought the LP brand new at Poo Bah record shop in Pasadena, way back in 1982 when I was 15 years old. I just LOVED the cover and the song titles gave me a boner. It fast became my all-time favorite record album (and 33 years later, remains so!) I now know more about Monitor, own all the original LP and EP's their music appeared on, snatched up the NEW WAVE THEATER VHS which features them performing 'Dead Jim' eons ago, have found out more about their origins, influences, later bands, World Imitation Productions, actually own several of their early underground pastiche/collage booklets and have been friends on Facebook with Mikie Uhlenkott for at least four years by now, he and I both live in Pasadena! Laurie O'Connell has consistently resisted my appeals to her fanboy appreciation and blatantly refused all of my repeated pleadings of her to please accept me as a friend on Facebook (Yes, I DO KNOW how ridiculously silly, childish and pathetic that sounds! But fuck it! This is MONITOR we're talking about here, dammit!) I suppose she is just one of those people who is incredibly selective about such things! Anyhow, saw your glowing review here and just loved every last explanation of the ethereal mental-imagery each track has always conjured for you, share several of your musings on the other-worldliness of it all, as well as just what (remains) a phenomenally kick-ass and entertaining slice of artistic poetry, containing snippets and inspirations from even more different and eclectic genres and styles of music than even we might ever be consciously possible of identifying or taking note of! Hats off to you for being a Monitor supporter, writing so glowingly AND especially eloquently about them, and also, thank you to Michael, for the first responsive comment above, giving a run down of what many of the songs titles or content were all about! -Brandon Quinn