A little more than a year ago, a little band called Monkey Power Trio introduced
me to their music via a cryptic e-mail and an urging to check out their website.
Once I listened, I was instantly hooked. It was fascinating, much in the same
way a tragic car crash is fascinating.
For those of you who don't know the premise, Monkey Power Trio is five gentlemen
who live in separate cities. They get together once a year in a recording
studio and in four hours or so write and record as many songs as they can.
They do not communicate about the music beforehand. They do not discuss ideas
or topics that can be brought up in the studio. They walk in cold and they
walk out with enough music to release one record a year.
The reason this is so interesting to myself and some of the other people
I've played their records for is that you can hear the band improve and gel
with each subsequent recording. Older songs like 1995's "You Like-a The
Cheese?", with it's in-the-moment observation of another persons' fromage
preferences have slowly given way to songs like 1999's introspective "I
Run From Fights" where singer Mark Maynard screams, "I'm a pussy"
over a howling, growling two guitar attack.
Last year, I conducted
an interview with the band the day after they completed their recording/writing
session for "Future Past Present". They finally had a focused vision
(to sell every song for advertising purposes and thus take over the world)
and a new band motto ("More Brand Than Band"). A few people who
have nothing better to do with their time but chat on the MPT message board
began sniping at the band for selling out. There were a few policy statements
by various band members that sounded as if they were trying to put a spin
on that message without entirely denying it. All of this could have led to
a lot of controversy in media outlets throughout the world, but then September
11th happened and MPT's unabashed ambition was swept under the rug in favor
of national beneifits concerts and 24 hour coverage of the war on terrorism.
When no one was looking, MPT quietly released "Future Past Present"
and it's time now for the world to take notice. Opening with the absolutely
crushing "Black Fulton", "Future Past Present" hearkens
back to the days when Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers were defining the
experimental underground. With it's frantic saxophone breaks scattered over
a freight train rhythm, "Black Fulton" is the type of song that
makes you want to throw up your devil horns and shout "Hell Yeah!"
Everyone in the band is almost in sync and the vocals are distorted. It's
the stuff legends are made of and it's the kind of song that should put all
the people who were slagging the band for attempting to sell out in their
Of course, that's followed by MPT's sellout song, "When I Save Time
(I Save Money)". The band asks that if anyone can help them
sell this song, please contact them via their website
www.monkeypowertrio.com. It starts out sounding like something
off of their last two records but then shifts gears and rocks almost
as hard as "Black Fulton". This is what's so surprising
about this record. The band sounded happy when I interviewed them,
but the music on side one sounds as if they are angry and have something
to prove. I like this way better than MPT on records past.
Why? Well, probably because I have issues of my own, but also because the
band sounds focused. It's one thing to experiment once a year and produce
a record that gets a little college airplay. What would be even better though
is for this band to record once a year and produce songs that the american
indie underground snaps up as soon as they hit the street. The guys in Monkey
Power Trio deserve to be rich.
Why? Well, why the Hell do you deserve to be rich? Stop slagging on these
guys. At least they're out there doing something.
Side Two gives us the dreamy, ambient sound of "The Land of MPT",
a song driven almost entirely by a single bass note over which delayed guitar
notes echo. Sure you've heard songs like this before. The kind that build
tension slowly and then release it in a hailstorm of volume. Well, not quite,
"The Land of MPT" builds tension slowly and then instead of exploding,
it simply fizzles out. Once again, though, every member of the band is just
about on time and almost in sync. The paranoia in Maynard's voice is gripping.
Finally, "Hey Matt" is a slice of indie punk/pop a la Haystack
or Five Star Volcanic. Great driving beat and chugging guitar while Maynard
sings, "Hey Matt, whatcha doin' Matt?" for almost a minute and a
half. Sure, it's not introspective, but you will walk away singing it. Phenomenal.
Monkey Power Trio has put out the best record of their 8 year career and
it's my pick for record of the year. Why?
Because unlike other bands, MPT improves and innovates with every record.
Off the top of my head, I can't name any other band that can say that, not
even my beloved Guided By Voices.
Go to www.monkeypowertrio.com
and download some cuts from the new record. You'll see what I mean.