A Monk of the Rarest Kind

8 Feb

The job for new bands out there is just getting harder and I’m not just talking about the fact that they must compete with washed-down mainstream garbage. The root of the problem is monotony. Too many bands sound exactly alike. This was easy to get around in the 60s because, well, even mainstream was good music. But today, listeners with keen ears are always searching for something different, something exceptionally unique. Music that when it comes on the iPod captures the listener. Indie music has become increasingly popular because of the bored listener. Now, if you are a new band, you better bring something new to the table. And, if you do infuse some originality into a worn genre, well, you will hopefully succeed – because you are worth it.

These are the bands that I like to focus on in the New Band Palace section of the blog, and I am not going to stop today. We travel to Eugene/Portland, Oregon, to seek out a collective of talented musicians who have decided to tackle a bushel of genres and create an eclectic blend of jazzy rock n’ roll that can blow your socks off with its productive sound, professionalism, and absolutely sick riffs.

Rare Monk released a 7-track album called Astral Travel Battles in June of 2011 and have been playing shows around their area of residence. The album deserves recognition. It is a small featurette of the effervescent sound that the band produces and it hits on so many layered elements you can lose count. The band is Dorian Aites: Vocals, Guitars, Keys, Percussion; Isaac Thelin: Violin, Tenor Saxophone; Jake Martin: Guitar; Forest Gallien: Bass, Keys; Rick Buhr: Drums, Percussion.  Thelin rocks the afro in the photo above.

The best way to explore a band is to dive right into their music, so let’s take a swim in Rare Monk’s synthesis.

“Shoot Me Down,” which tells the story of a hardened escaped prisoner who is hunted down and (well listen to the song to find our what happens), is track one on the album, and, while the lyric features gem lines like “If my soul’s spending on credit, oh please Lord, don’t send the bill,” I want to focus a little more on the structure of the song itself. It’s important to start any album off with a strong composition, and “Shoot Me Down” begins with a kick-ass guitar riff that blends with some light percussion and Dorian Aites’ clear, guttural voice. At around 25 seconds, the band introduces a violin that gives the song this interesting western ditty feel – a little Modest Mouse-like. The song moves quickly through the chorus and then Thelin actually shreds on the violin. It is a refreshing solo – s0 different and well-done. A violin can work in hard rock songs and I’m glad Rare Monk employs it. At around 2:35, Rare Monk provides me with the first example of their originality. Many bands would have ended the song at that mark. Instead, the band displays true professionalism and slows the song down entirely into this Ska-like reggae beat that leads into a David Gilmour-like guitar solo from Jake Martin, splattered with soul and effects. Then a moving drum and bass lead to the culmination of the song which is the quick chorus.

“Somnifero” gives Rick Buhr an immediate drum solo and Forest Gallien a wonderful, jazzy bass riff that complements Thelin’s tenor saxophone. Martin’s guitar fits into the ska category again and the effects give the fills a 70’s progressive rock feel. Dorian Aites’ vocal is strong and contained, and I like its tenderness. Tthe tenor sax solo is the best part of the song. It is paired so well with the chaotic drum – like wine and cheese – and I absolute adore the little sampling of “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.” The runs at the end with the bass is a perfect way to end the album.

My favorite song off of the album, though, is “Mama Bear,” and although it is an instrumental, I feel it may say the most about the band’s originality. The riff is simple, a droning, effect-saturated melody, that leads into a violin run that says more than any word could. This leads into a brief guitar and violin riff. What I find so spectacular about this song is the band’s competent use of melody layering, an aspect of music that can be difficult to master. If you close your eyes and listen to one part of the song, say 2:35 into it, you can hear everything. Listen for the violin over the initial riff, and then keep the background in mind when Thelin loses his mind on the violin.

Listen to more of Rare Monk’s music on their Bandcamp and check out their Facebook for more details

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One Response to “A Monk of the Rarest Kind”

  1. John Phillips February 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    Real good, really good, especially the last one.

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