This full-time side project of the guitarist from the Gossip demonstrates an extraordinary studiousness after its members passed their Rough Trade 101 class (with honors!), but that's about all it does.
The members of Die Monitr Batss really want to be post-punk. Their songs are all scratchy guitar noise, plodding rhythms, and monotonous shouting by both sexes. They recite and repeat catchphrases with vague meanings. They use tuneless saxophone. James Chance's "Contort Yourself" is certainly at the top of their iTunes playlists. (The Delta 5 is likely near the bottom, right underneath all the other usual suspects.) But this particular variant of post-punk is like bad candy -- the kind that tastes only like sugar rather than fruit or mint or chocolate.
Fundamentally, the problem with Girls of War is that all its accurate surface ingredients cannot compensate for its lack of innocence and ambition, qualities that must creatively nurture one another in order to produce great post-punk music. Artists who sounded like this back in 1980 did so because they didn't know what else to do -- they could only play their instruments so well and possibly couldn't carry a tune, but their creative drives led them to make the most of it. In the case of Die Monitr Batss, however, the sound is wholly contrived. They are un-ironically celebrating the fact that they've reached a starting line, yet rarely do they show an intention to cross it.
The band's first "full-length" album (2003's Youth Controllerzzz) ran for less than a quarter of an hour, and while Girls of War is only about ten minutes longer than that, it still manages to repeat itself too much. The minimalism of Die Monitr Batss is starting to reveal itself as a default due to a dearth of ideas, rather than an aesthetic choice on the part of the band.
As if to compensate, they strive too hard to be enigmatic. They cloak their appearances with scarves and masks in their photographs. They overindulge in creative spelling, especially in the repetition of pluralizing S's (or Z's), which is apparent even from this review. Lyrics are lightly drawn fragments, often juxtapositions of nonsense made to force connections in the listener that may not have been intended by the artist. If a man never spoke a word for thirty years and then quietly uttered "pilgrim," it would seem extraordinarily important. If two minutes later, he followed it with "surgery," you might take from him some sort of rumination on being a guinea pig at the frontier of medical science, but he certainly didn't think it. Girls of War works on this sort of principle. "Heatersss" offers the best example: "He said he never wants to see you again / Turn on the heater, I'm freezing" repeats several times. And then the song moves on to another set of disparate phrases: "What I do for a living is not right, night after night / You gotta calm down". Individually, none of these lyrics mean anything significant at all, but when paired together, they are oh-so-deep. Making his audience do all the work when he has invested no real meaning in the project is the cheater's approach to art.
The next time out, Die Monitr Batss really needn't try so hard to be something, when instead they can do something. While a song like "Gore Appeal" still verifies the band's meaningless "pop" approach to songwriting, it is danceable and catchy in a way that the rest of the album isn't, proving that they are capable of making noise for something other than noise's sake. Noise-wise, though, they do have a good understanding of how to use the same tricks over and over to make intricate textures. And while the album, flatly produced and quietly mastered, perhaps denies the live fury of the band, the better textures do jump out of the speakers if the volume is turned up... a lot. Even if most of the record's repetition ultimately reaches monotony, the elements do sometimes develop and change gradually (e.g., the middle section of "Catholic Guilt (At Night)"), much like the way they do in the higher levels of techno music, only here with guitars, bass, live drums, and that awful squawking saxophone. That being said, only in the noisy guitar interludes and kick drum-heavy outro of the final track, "Thigh Lies", does the music threaten to go anywhere. If it did, Die Monitr Batss might actually develop some lasting flavor.