Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Album Review: Rare Monk - Sleep/Attack

Album Rating: A-
At first glance, experimental indie music may seem like a particularly ill conceived idea when you consider the overwhelming objective of most indie bands today. “Have we written enough hooks?” Check. “Is it friendly enough for extensive, unabashed airtime?” Check. “Well, that completes the last track on the album.” Of course, hyperbolic blemishing sees many brilliant indie bands unfairly tarnished with the same brush, but it does stress the fact that few indie bands are brave enough to deviate too boldly from the beaten track. The juxtaposition of radio-friendly pop tunes and abrasive string driven instrumentals is one which sets Oregon five-piece Rare Monk apart from their peers, and it’s this propensity to dare and to experiment which makes Sleep/Attack one of the most exciting and innovative albums of 2013.

Towards the album’s beginning, both “Death by Proxy” and “Burn Them!” showcases the band’s pop-leanings, and they unwittingly lure you into a false sense of security regarding the variation to come. Choosing first to demonstrate their mainstream appeal, Rare Monk wisely begin Sleep/Attack with their most commercially viable track. High pitched keyboards and bouncy guitars immediately enter the fray on “Death by Proxy” and set the tone for the radio-friendly vocal hooks to thrive on, as the band make their case for playtime at indie nights across the country. Although similar sonically, the winsome “Burn Them!” betrays its whimsical nature lyrically, as lead singer Dorian Aites delivers lines such as “I’ll marry you, but only for the fame,” and “I drink success, but only from your veins” with all the sweetness he can muster. Although deceivingly straight forward upon its first few listens, “Burn Them!” actually typifies the experimental nature Rare Monk embrace, and goes to show that even when their instruments sound slick and friendly, scratching the surface just slightly reveals menacing, recondite motifs.

Undeniably, Sleep/Attack’s strongest trait is that it covers a lot of ground but never spreads itself too thin – something even highly seasoned bands fall victim to. Although it incorporates strings, keys, guitars and even brass, it never feels as though the band is using a medley of sounds purely for the sake of diversification. The end product feels both smooth and seamless as if they’ve been plying their trade for years, first chiselling then polishing their sound until any coarse remnants had been eroded. We know from their recent inception however that this has not been the case, and knowing that makes Sleep/Attack all the more impressive. The greatest example of their fluidity comes when the band transitions from the squeaky-clean pop hooks of “Burn Them!” to the heavily distorted, string-driven “Dreadnought,” as it succeeds in feeling every inch a natural progression, and never a conscious transition.

It wouldn’t do the album justice to simply gloss over the experimental instrumentals which act as the centrepiece and the album’s finale. “Dreadnought” and “Mama Bear” see vocalist Aites stand aside as the reverb and distortion are cranked up on the guitars and the drumming is intensified, whilst they also contain the most effective use of strings on the album besides the excellent title track. The former focuses heavily on immediacy and aggression and it swirls in a melancholic mist: whilst the latter builds patiently, growing in intensity in typical post-rock fashion, before providing the album with a satisfying, apt finale.

Taking ambitious instrumentals and teaming them up with some of the strongest indie tracks so far in 2013, Rare Monk shun stagnation with a gallimaufry of ideas and instruments - resulting in a fresh and bold album which distinguishes itself as one of the bravest debut releases in recent years.


Track List:

1. Death By Proxy
2. Timebreakers
3. Drumhead
4. Burn Them!
5. Dreadnought
6. Underground
7. Center Of It All
8. Sleep/Attack
9. Mama Bear

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