[9 March 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
I dunno about you, but when I hear about a garage band that kills it live; that’s single-handedly reviving the pure punk spirit of a bygone era gilded in sepia and blood; whose mustachioed derelict singer lubricates the floor with a never-ending stream of bodily fluids; whose only instruments are a guitar and drum kit routinely set ablaze by said mustachioed derelict singer; AND who’ve been banned from playing most of their local clubs, I gotta wonder: “Are these guys from Israel?” Because seriously, that shit’s been done to death in America. Call me a relic or what you will, but the notion of getting drenched in someone else’s sweat while helping a shirtless 40-something rocker crowd-surf is a tad less appealing than the prospect of being stricken insensate by the Signature Cocktails of some obnoxious casual dining chain. For one thing, those casual dining places have to clean their bathroom floors every hour, a nicety likely overlooked at the dives frequented by Monotonix, the killer Israeli garage band in question. For another thing, Monotonix’s new album Not Yet is a great, non-sticky substitute for their live shtick.
Monotonix sound pretty much how you’d expect. Ami Shalev, the 40-something singer, opens “Everything That I See” with a cough and sounds like he’s puking the rest of the time. Drummer Haggai Ferschtman flails his arms like they’re 20 feet long, and he seems unusually proud of his cymbal collection, accurately miked by Steve Albini. Yonatan Gat’s guitar veers between fuzzy riffs and strangled lead lines. Song for song they sound good and threatening, but the romance and mystery in Gat’s guitar set ‘em apart from other such miscreants.
Unlike most guitarists whose ideal is scuzz, Gat isn’t beholden to the blue notes. In fact, he comes up with surprisingly pretty riffs, laced with major 6ths, 7ths, and 9ths, giving his squalid gusts a feel somewhere between Hüsker Dü and some classic rock band I can’t place. The album’s masterpiece is the portentous five-minute “Late Night”, a two-chord choogalooga that cuts its guitar haze with syncopated swagger. Gat throws in little detuned blasts that sound like the steam rising up from the dark streets of a Scorsese movie, while Shalev leers a full-on madonna-whore complex, promising his ladyfriend “To let you under my skin / To feel you in my hands.”
In a recent interview, Gat speculated that Shalev’s lyrics are about “trying to come to terms with tying your life to someone else’s.” Um, okay. Mostly, Shalev sounds like a raving psychopath, a fine aesthetic mode, though I concede the lines that register are pretty emo: “Just let me whisper in your EARS TO-NIGGGGHHHHHT!”, “You just need to let me find my WAAAAYYYYYY!”, “[Something something something] like an octopus!” Clearly he’s coming to terms with SOMETHING; an unfamiliar appetizer plate, perhaps.
Monotonix trust their rock chops enough to let in some beauty and softness along the way, and that’s what makes them more than just garage revival sticks in the mud. But make no mistake, they’ll still flatten everyone in the room. Ultimately, if you’re trying to learn about the vagaries of the heart from Monotonix, you’re even sicker than they are.