Friday, February 17, 2012

From Monument To Masses - The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps (Classic Review)

How does an instrumental band tell a very distinct story or cement their political stance through their music? From Monument to Masses are a three piece instrumental band from Berkley, California who, through the use of various news and movie samples inserted throughout their compositions, are able to create a narrative of history that is striking and awe inspiring.

I first heard this album as a bit of accident. A friend of mine had burned a CD for me back in 2004 that featured The Evens and From Monument to Masses. However, I thought it was just The Evens. When the music and mood of the music changed so dramatically I was sucked in to the new sound and quickly distinguished it as a whole other band that must have been burned to this disc. Sure enough I was correct and my love for this band's music has grown since. The musicianship is very much on point. With a great mix and great sensibility for guitar tone, this record gleams like a masterpiece.

"Sharpshooter" starts the record off recounting the September 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center buildings in New York and the resulting fear and war culture that resulted. This is one of only two songs that have small vocal parts and I must say they are excellently placed above the rolling drums. The song moves on and stays in the melodic/introspective side of things, but offers a snapshot of this band's technically proficiency. The more aggressive musicianship kicks in about 5 minutes in to the song but seamlessly transitions back to the melodic neighborhood. At about 7 minutes there's a great back and forth between melodic and aggressive verses. With a run time of 8:52, the first track never uninterested me in the slightest.

"From the Mountains to the Prairies" takes us on a great musical ride interweaving some noodly guitar with some more drawn out large chords. From a narration point of view, it seems to pick up where "Sharpshooter" left off; examining the responses to the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center with some quotes emphasizing the popular opinion among the frightened masses at the time, as well as some quotes that look more critically at the U.S. response. About 3 minutes in there's a nice break which includes some guitar finger tapping and choppy bass. I love how the guitar player will record and loop a part and then play something completely different over it. We see hear how this noodly groove can actually be taken in a much more textured direction due to this technique. The song comes to a close with a slow, introspective crawl consisting of multi-layer guitars and loud, crashing drums.

The shortest track on the record is "The Quiet Before" which begins by sampling the film "Pump Up the Volume". While generating some floating notes to lay down the basis of the tempo, the guitar then joins the drums as they accent the part with a series of rolls and cymbal crashes. This all builds up and the drums suddenly launch into a straight beat. This doesn't last long until the bass and guitar give way to rolling drums with "The Matrix" being sample over top. It's quick, but it's architecture is just right.

As the record moves on you see how this band has perfected their craft and can perfectly complete this soundscape of layered guitars, precise drums and audio samples to tell a great story. Songs like "The Spice Must Flow" and "Old Robes" take you on a a great journey and their run time becomes negligible by their ability to grasp your attention.

Another standout track for me was "Comrades and Friends" which employs some heavy electronic drum programming and subtle keyboard work to back up the mulit-layered guitar. The actual drums are brought in, along with bass guitar, to create a finale to the song. On the band's release of remixes called "Schools of Thought Contended" there is a version of this song with a different arrangement and beautiful melodic female vocals. Both versions conjure a great story though, and both have the moments of absolute perfection.

The album closes up with "Letters to Z Magazine", which also uses an electronic drum into, but only for about 30 seconds, when the drummer takes the reigns. The bass locks in wonderfully with the drums to create a stop start feel before joining the guitar's melody. At 2:55 the bass is given the floor. The tone is so unique and captivating. The drums take center stage soon after with a beat that sounds much like a balancing act. It has that slow motion effect with some quick stick work behind it. The riff opens up to large chords before breaking into an upbeat guitar notes to plot the part that will draw the record to a close.

What you'll get here is 7 tracks of some very unique instrumental music with shines with great musicianship and production quality. I love how the samples tell the story and the subtle use of keyboards and electronics is tastefully executed. This record will always be an influence to me.